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Geri Allen: The Life of a Song

Pianist Geri Allen’s first release in six years nicely spotlights her compositional excellence and mature playing. While she’s consistently been a dynamic, gifted soloist on past releases, Allen’s playing on The Life of a Song seems more relaxed and fluid, yet it remains rangy and expressive. Rather than just zipping through progressions or spewing out rapid-fire notes, Allen sometimes presents delicate, fleeting lines and light, soothing refrains. Then on other occasions like the opening passages of “LBW’s House” or “In Appreciation” she’ll shift into an aggressive Afro-Latin mode or deliver sharp, gospel-influenced phrases that are rhythmically daring. Her solos mix elements of hard bop and blues along with occasional nods to funk (“Black Bottom”) and swing (“The Life of a Song’).

But this CD is far more a collaborative effort than the usual trio date, which should be expected when your partners are bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Holland’s booming solos and often-stunning accompaniment are augmented by DeJohnette’s nimble drumming and expertly varied patterns and textures. And the session’s engineer, Michael Bishop, should be commended: Every maneuver by Hol-land and DeJohnette can be clearly heard and admired. On such songs as “Mounts and Mountains” or “Unconditional Love,” Holland and DeJohnette’s backgrounds are nearly as compelling as the song’s main melody. Other times, especially during the opening moments of “Lush Life” and her solos on “Soul Eyes” and the title track, Allen’s excellence in establishing a composition’s mood and developing the piece to its fruition is spectacular. Still, it is clear on all 11 selections here that listeners are hearing a cohesive unit, with each member easily able to shift from a spotlight to a complementary role.

Although Geri Allen’s versions of standards are marvelously performed, it is her originals that distinguish The Life of a Song. She’s writing fresh, distinctive songs that are made even better when performed by a master trio.

Originally Published