Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins, Myra MelfordMZM (Infrequent Seams, 2017)

mzmPicture1-500New combinations of familiar names always make for a compelling bill in jazz or improv. I don’t think I’ve encountered any two of Zeena Parkins, Miya Masaoka, and Myra Melford together in any project, so the idea of all three dabbling together in the studio is irresistible.

It’s an all-strings combo — Melford on piano, Masaoka on koto, and Parkins on harp — but Parkins also adds electronics for a wider range of sounds and a sense of sustain.

They explore a wide set of strategies and moods on MZM. “Bug” goes for a straightforward attack, driven at times by a pulsing of dense piano chords. Along similar lines, “Eight-Burst” is a briskly moving piece that turns up the electronics from Parkins, coupled with some frenzied koto and splashy, jazzy piano from Melford.

Copyright Heike Liss

On the slower side, “Saturn” tracks an appropriately spacey vibe, spiced by reverb on the koto. “Rosette” and “Spiral” likewise provide good doses of creeping, lingering atmosphere. The latter builds from the koto’s rich, mysterious twang in pure form. Melford sprinkles icicles from what might be a toy keyboard, while Parkins provides a deep throb of a bassline, subtly moving underneath.

I like the tight-knit rumble in the piano on “Retina,” which eases up as the piece progresses. And then there’s “Ant,” an edgy track full of small, curled-up sounds. It plows forward on the back of a stumbling piano non-rhythm and small stabs of koto, led by squelching electronics. It feels like a conscious effort to create something different, and it works — a new shape architected by three masterful improvisers.

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