There’s always room in the precincts of improvised music for a new album by the pianist Myra Melford. “The Whole Tree Gone” (Firehouse 12), her first as a leader in more than three years, is a knockout by any standard, including the bar set by her previous work. Ambitious but approachable, suffused with airy warmth and restless calm, it unpacks a suite of lyrical compositions Ms. Melford has been refining since 2004. Their character ranges from slyly furtive (“Moon Bird,” inspired by Miró) to gracefully frantic (the title track) to starkly elegiac (“A Generation Comes and Another Goes”), often shape-shifting in mid-song.
Be Bread, Ms. Melford’s coolly intuitive cohort, girds every structure with a pliable integrity, making these pieces feel both supple and sturdy. The group has a sympathetic front line (and a pair of commanding soloists) in the trumpeter Cuong Vu and the clarinetist Ben Goldberg; its rhythm section consists of the guitarist Brandon Ross and the bassist Stomu Takeishi, both playing acoustic instruments, and the drummer Matt Wilson, an endless fount of effervescence. Ms. Melford leads from within the stir, meting out her pianism in surges or shimmers, according to the music’s needs.