[JPL] Allen, Carrington, And Spalding Play Jazz Rather Than Define It At The Village Vanguard

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat Jan 14 10:33:38 EST 2012


Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding Trio
Village Vanguard
Thursday, January 12

Better than: More sniping and griping about the future of jazz.

Maybe you've heard, but there's currently a storm, part lament and part 
manifesto, brewing in one quarter of the jazz scene, in which depending 
on whom you talk to, the very word "jazz" was either an abomination to 
begin with or has outlived its usefulness. My take? A deflection, 
really: The process is always better served by listening rather than 
talking. It's precisely what I wanted to do even more of last night 
after hearing pianist Geri Allen, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer 
Terri Lyne Carrington together, primarily because the expansiveness of 
their set raised the kind of questions that rendered any speechifying 
moot. Neither mentioned the "j" word during their turn addressing the 
audience from the mic, but the allegiance to the idiom was clear as a 
bell. (And long before the jiggy bass'n'drum vamp that introduced Frank 
Loesser's "If I Were A Bell", too.) The set's expressionistic push-pull 
turned out to be a show of jazz fealty as disorienting as it was riveting.

Still very much a new entity, the trio was lifted out of the stellar 
assemblage of women that Carrington (a veteran of tenor icon Wayne 
Shorter's groups and talk-show comedian Arsenio Hall's late-night 
"posse") gathered for Mosaic, her 2011 disc. The drummer has insisted 
that Mosaic's gender makeup wasn't a "political statement", and why not 
believe her? Her sistuhs are very much in demand: Allen, 54, is 
indisputably the finest pianist to come along in the '80s—she might've 
ended up as influential as her twin Herbie idols Hancock and Nichols if 
jazz's waning popularity hadn't been further exacerbated by music-biz 
fragmentation in the digital era—and as for Spalding (a friend to the 
Obamas, Uniqlo pitchwoman, Prince opening-act, and arch nemesis of 
Justin Bieber fans), the line outside the Vanguard last night said all 
we need to know about her value both creatively and commercially. (Both 
sets were sold out.) Tenorist Joe Lovano, a Vanguard fixture and 
Spalding's employer in the ensemble Us Five, could be spotted in the 

Common ground was established much the same way it always is on the 
bandstand: through tunes. To some extent, the audience was witnessing 
the new amalgam feel each other out. Allen's rubato progression on the 
opener, Shorter's "Masqualero", set the tone for both the piece and the 
set, but perhaps it's fitting that Carrington, the Shorter alum, took 
the lead. The slippery dynamics, a catalog of rimshots and cymbals, were 
where she played with the tune's elasticity. It was then Allen's turn to 
assert herself on Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann," though Spalding's bass 
features added warmth to Allen's stately returns to the theme. If a 
performance is indeed a dialogue between player and listener, what I 
found most interesting is how the smallest kernel of familiarity went a 
long way with the audience. "Miss Ann" brought only slightly fewer howls 
of acceptance than "If I Were A Bell." Loesser's easy structure was as 
cloaked by the trio's freewheeling improvisations as Dolphy's more 
complicated one.

The distances between a stalwart from the American Songbook and a jazz 
standard were made even clearer on the final two pieces. Allen's 
arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein's "Lucky To Be Me," a ballad 
probably best known in jazz circles through pianist Bill Evans, made the 
most of limpidity. Allen reharmonized a bit of it, adding subtlety that 
allowed its progressions to ripple out in waves for Spalding to wade 
into. Although there was nothing even remotely obvious about it, in 
contrast to the multi-level edifice the trio structured for Charlie 
Parker's "Ah-Leu-Cha", the set closer, the ballad seemed almost like a 
walk in the park. Before revealing itself, "Ah-Leu-Cha" went through 
several sections—some discursively impenetrable, others thrillingly 
soloistic—with Carrington's drumming handling much of the suspense. When 
the trio finally settled into the tune, Allen's statement placed it 
somewhere between a classical fantasia and "Fascinating Rhythm." Given 
the composition's bebop pedigree, it seemed a statement of both 
reverence and its opposite, the sign of a group uninterested in resting 
on its laurels.

Critical bias: Two of the three instrumentalists are accomplished 
vocalist; glad neither showed it off last night.

Overheard: Nada...you've heard about the Vanguard's quiet policy, correct?

Random notebook: Midway through the set Spalding decided the group 
should be called the "ACS Trio." Music this bracing needs something more 

Dr. Jazz
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SKYPE:  drjazz99

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