All original compositions, embraced by an equal-sided trio of piquant stylists, who can each forge ahead or accompany with organic aplomb, The Guest House is a durably rewarding collection. It leads off with the title track, written by pianist Myra Melford, who says it was composed as a mutually inspired collaboration with a chef making a meal, information that helps you hear its joyfully sense of process and creative anticipation. Melford’s pair of solos are especially good, as she throws in a bit of sugar (via hints of “Sweet Georgia Brown”) and builds to a brief, clearly-intonated barrage of notes reminiscent of Cecil Taylor.
Up next is drummer Matt Wilson’s tune, “Don Knotts,” the Andy Griffith sidekick who comes to life here in the trio’s nervous twitches; despite the playfulness of the piece, they manage the right blend of seriousness and levity required to portray a comedic soul. Bassist Mark Dresser’s “Kind of Nine” is both refined and bluesy, like a lapsed waltz, a wonderful prelude to the chamber-oriented beauty ofWilson’s “Hope (For the Cause),” the drummer’s heartfelt but gentle tribute to those affected by cancer. Melford’s “The Promised Land” has an arresting, blocky groove that somehow evokes funk-rock, rising and falling until the pianist really stokes it with some glissando hopscotch that would make the late Don Pullen (a master at investing emotion in the technique) smile.
Dresser’s “Tele Mojo” is the least successful track, a long piece that too often feels adrift in a foggy prairie. “Al” is Wilson’s paean to Albert Ayler yet forgoes the torrid intensity that was Ayler’s trademark in favor of a lower-level burn, particularly the fervent rustle and surge on the kit that is one of Wilson’s signature strengths. “Even Birds Have Homes (To Return To),” by Melford, is quietly magnificent and gracefully emotive, with Wilson’s chimes and Dresser’s foreshadow-y bass snippets compelling attention, eventually leading to a sublime passage where Dresser’s beautiful bowing is supported with ideal rhythmic and harmonic empathy by Melford and a restrained Wilson. Dresser’s closing “Ekoneni” is a cerebral toe-tapper with a beguiling melody and fascinating, brittle-timbred mesh among the trio at the end that felt Middle Eastern until I read in the liner notes that it was inspired by the book The Stone Virgins fromZimbabwe. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another five years for more beautiful numbers expertly burnished by this threesome.