NY Times Review of Fay Victor, Myra Melford & Marika Hughes at Sound It Out!

Fay Victor, Myra Melford and Marika Hughes


By Giovanni Russonello / The New York Times

(Fay Victor performing at Greenwich House. Photo: Nathan Bajar for The New York Times.)

The vocalist Fay Victor glanced over at the pianist Myra Melford and nodded slowly as they finished “The Kitchen,” the third song of their set at Greenwich House Music School. Ms. Victor had been whispering, hissing and tisking in a spill of sibilant percussion while Ms. Melford improvised freely across the keyboard, moving in all directions. As they simmered down, Ms. Victor kept on nodding, her head pulling her shoulders along with it. Her thoughts, her body and her voice were all working together.

Ms. Victor is a singer with her own brand: She’s theatrical and extreme without being campy. Expectations about a jazz vocalist’s demeanor — that it can’t be too aggressive, or that if it’s biting it can’t also be warm — don’t mean a thing to her. And forget about continuity. Sometimes melody leads to rhythm, or an explosion or a scream. Her affects are all scrambled. In that way, her playing sounds firmly planted in the age of digital media.

When she does sing even or discernible pitches, her precision is remarkable. But even more striking is how conversational and direct it feels. She has essentially invented her own hybrid of song and spoken word, a scat style for today’s avant-garde.

To “The Kitchen,” a years-old Melford composition, Ms. Victor had added lyrics. Before the song’s simmering close, she asked repeatedly, “What label are you?” and rattled off a list of options: “The black community … the sexually active … the illiterate … the cancer patient.” She didn’t make any of them sound particularly inviting.

This show — the first of the season for Sound It Out, an avant-garde concert series — put Ms. Victor and Ms. Melford together for the first time in a trio with the cellist Marika Hughes. Most of the music was by Ms. Melford or Ms. Victor, but Ms. Hughes provided “Because You Asked,” a swaying, almost Appalachian piece in a gentle minor. Ms. Melford reached into the piano, dulling the strings as she struck single notes and Ms. Hughes plucked big pizzicato notes, in and out of the key. Then Ms. Melford sat down to play chords in a higher range, and Ms. Hughes outlined a lovely melody, providing something stable to balance out the fray.

Posted in