[JPL] A Jazz Chameleon Leans Back to the Traditional

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Fri Aug 25 13:40:32 EDT 2006


 http://www.nysun.com/article/38602



A Jazz Chameleon Leans Back to the Traditional
Jazz 

BY WILL FRIEDWALD
 August 25, 2006
 URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/38602

For more than 20 years, Geri Allen has been an archetype of the new breed of
contemporary jazz musician who is equally versed in the most modern,
cutting-edge music as well as the most traditional.When she works with more
experimental player-composericonoclasts like Ornette Coleman or Steve
Coleman (no relation), she may break a few rules, but when she plays jazz
standards and the American songbook, it's clear she knows how to follow
those rules, and to be creative within them.

Ms. Allen and her trio ‹ with the drummer Jimmy Cobb and the bassist Darryl
Hall, are appearing this week, through Sunday, at the Village Vanguard in
support of her new album, "Timeless Portraits And Dreams." As with her
previous release, "The Life Of A Song" (from 2004), she is again leaning
more toward the traditional side. The new album ‹ and the music she played
at the Vanguard on Tuesday night ‹ draw heavy inspiration from two cultural
institutions that are obviously major influences in Ms. Allen's life and
music: the black church and the living legacy of her musical forefathers and
foremothers.

She began the opening set with a two-part spiritual statement, the
traditional "Oh Freedom," which she re-fashioned into a brief, rubato
introduction to a new work in a similar vein, "Melchezedik," by her
brother-in-law, the saxophonist Antoine Roney. This opening segment was the
slowest part of the evening: the extra-long composition is much more
satisfying on the CD, where it is sweetened considerably by the subtle,
background singing of the Atlanta Jazz Chorus; in person it seemed too long
and too repetitious.

>From there, things picked up considerably, as Ms. Allen launched into two
interconnected subsets of compositions by George Gershwin and by Charlie
Parker. Coincidentally, Ms. Allen did not play the familiar melodies of
either Gershwin song, both of which were inspired by earlier jazz
interpretations. "Embraceable You" used as its point of departure Herbie
Hancock's 1998 performance from his classic album "Gershwin's World," though
where Mr. Hancock played the melody in an abstract, stretched-out fashion,
Ms. Allen avoided it entirely, but managed to sound warm and embraceable
just the same.

"Ah-Leu-Cha" was essentially a variation on a variation of a variation: She
used the 1955 arrangement by Miles Davis (which also featured Jimmy Cobb) of
one of Parker's many transfigurations of the "I Got Rhythm" chord changes,
this one from 1948 and in the key of F. She followed this with "Another
Hair-Do," a seldom-played Parker blues in B-flat from 1947.This was anything
but abstract, but rather was an exceedingly lucid statement of the bebop
blues ‹ there was no mistaking it for anything else.

There are several additional spiritual pieces on the album, which were
directly inspired by the Masses of Mary Lou Williams. The CD, somewhat
confusingly, includes a piece called "Portraits And Dreams," which is
actually heard twice, and another called "Timeless Portraits And Dreams." At
the Vanguard, Ms. Alllen used the first "Portraits" as an intro into the
overtly spiritual "Well Done," whose lyric directly addresses the Creator.
As on the record, this was sung by Carmen Lundy, an outstanding singer whose
crystalline voice is a good match for Ms. Allen's touch at the keyboard. On
the album, Ms. Lundy also sings the other "Portraits" (the "Timeless" one),
and would have been welcome doing more songs at the Vanguard.

Ms. Allen closed the set with "In Appreciation," which was essentially a
blues with a down-home churchy feel. She is a bop-based pianist who rarely
overwhelms you with run after run of as many notes as the ear can process;
rather, every note she plays means something. She is no less eloquent or
elegant whether she's playing the blues or Gershwin, or, for that matter,
the Italian film composer Nino Rota, whose "La Strada" was the prettiest
part of the Vanguard set, as well as the new album.

I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Allen heard it for the first time in the same
place I did, as played by the late, wonderful pianist Jaki Byard on the 1980
"Amarcord Nino Rota" album. Like Byard, she plays it unaccompanied, and with
extreme sensitivity, playing up the contrast between the tender theme and
the rather brutal story of the film it accompanies. It's something of a
surprise that the most moving piece of the evening comes neither from the
Church nor the jazz tradition, but then, this music is about surprises.




   


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