Draft up a list of today’s most inventive and respected players in the realm of what tends to be called improvised music (or creative music or free jazz) and you’ll inevitably name the players in the pianist Myra Melford’s Fire and Water Quintet: the saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, the guitarist Mary Halvorson, the cellist Tomeka Reid and the percussionist Lesley Mok.
These are restless artists, mostly a generation or so younger than Melford, who have built a collaborative scene and individual legacies in the fertile cracks between improvisation and composition, between jazz and other musics, between the club and the academy — cracks that Melford has spent her 30-plus-year career widening.
“It’s wonderful to play with them,” Melford, 65, said in late October in a video interview from her home in the Bay Area, where she is a professor of Composition and Improvisational Practices at the University of California, Berkeley. In conversation, she pairs thoughtfulness with a peppery exuberance, a mix that reflects her pianism. “Each is such an important individual voice, and I love to hear what discoveries they make.”