Myriam Alter is one of those musicians about whom the Internet seems to know very little. What Google manages to dig up more or less tells the same story: Alter hails from a Belgian family of Sephardic Jews. She started piano lessons at age 8 but abandoned the instrument at 15 for other preoccupations. After studying psychology at university, she worked for an advertising agency and later ran a dance studio. When she was 36, she rediscovered the piano and slowly but determinedly built a career for herself as a jazz performer and composer. She has made a number of well-reviewed records — with carefully hand-picked band members and frequently someone else at the piano — that are little-known but quite beautiful.
After a first quintet CD Reminiscence, on which she still plays the piano, her next CD Alter Ego focused on her composing talents. The album was recorded by a quintet of US musicians, released in 1999 and warmly accepted by critics and audiences alike. German magazine Jazz thing read: “A candidate for the record of the year.” And Fono Forum added: “Charming, sensitive music.”
Coming from a Judeo-Spanish family, Myriam Alter was raised with all kinds of musics such as Latin, Italian, Oriental, Spanish, South American and classical. As a piano player she was trained in classical music but later found her way into jazz.
Her album If (2002) is about all the cultural influences that formed her as a person and musician.
“It truly expresses what I am and where I come from without compromising for any style or fashion,” she says.
As the music breathes Andalusian air and bows to Tango Nuevo, the composer consequently asked one of the great masters of bandoneon into the focal role: Argentinian improviser Dino Saluzzi, known for his extraordinary collaborations with jazz musician. His bandoneon invokes a range of assorted visions from sultry nights with venturesome dancers to small intimate cafes along wide boulevards bordered by mosaic sidewalks.
Recorded in NYC, the session includes drummer Joey Baron and bassist Greg Cohen, both part of John Zorn’s Masada projects. They are responsible for the tight overall sound that unifies the entire CD into a holistic piece. The individual songs charm with their combination of exquisite composition and elegant presentation. John Ruocco’s clarinet serves as rich counterpoint to Saluzzi, adding a European sensitivity that enables lovely melodies to assert themselves as serious compositions. Kenny Werner’s piano alternates between solo and rhythm with a precision and economy that is able to buttress Ruocco and Saluzzi as they explore each theme.
Myriam Alter doesn’t play the piano herself on her fifth record, Where is There (2007), she “merely” composed eight songs and assembled a sextet to perform them: reassembling the rhythm section from her last album, If of bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Joey Baron, as well as clarinet player John Ruocco, she added to the mix pianist Salvatore Bonafede, cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, and soprano saxophonist Pierre Vaiana.
Even though she doesn’t again play a note on the album, her presence is strongly felt at any given time in the compositions that encompass jazz, classical music, and various European influences. The rhythm section is at the heart of the record — listen how effortlessly Cohen and Baron provide a rhythmic bed for the other musicians, and how Bonafede provides just the right amount of texture on top of that — but the defining sound of “Where Is There” is Morelenbaum’s bittersweet cello, giving the songs a wealth of different moods. The record feels “light” in the best possible sense of the word: the music possesses elegance and clarity that turn each of the tracks into a gem. From the joyful opening track, “Was It There,” to the somber “September 11,” the album is very visual and invokes a great number of images. Wherever the album title’s “there” is, the journey is a rewarding experience. (Allmusic)
Alter released her most recent recording in 2015, Cross Ways. The ensemble was selected by the sound requirements it should provide, placing the accordion into a central spot which is greatly filled by Italian Luciano Biondini, the leading virtuoso of his instrument today. US Clarinetist John Ruocco (who lives in the Netherlands) fulfills an important soloist’s role as he did on the previous albums and Belgian bassist Nic Thys impresses with his strong acoustic bass foundation. The liquid tuba of Belgian Michel Massot will be a discovery for many as will be the creative percussion by young Dutch Landers Gyselinck who is making a name for himself right now in both the jazz and the avant-garde rock scene. Italian Michel Bisceglia who lives in Brussels provides subtle, crisp piano solos and his arrangements support the compositions so well.
At the very end of this exciting production Myriam sat down at the piano and played spontaneously a short solo piece dedicated to her old friend Mal Waldron.
“Come with me” from the album Where is There (2007)
Entire album, If