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The Mary Lou Williams Collective: Zodiac Suite: Revisited

The Zodiac Suite was composed by Mary Lou Williams in 1944 and 1945. She recorded the 12 movements in 1945 for Asch Records. No new recording of the full suite was released for 60 years, until this project was sponsored by the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. The “Collective” here consists of Geri Allen (in the Williams role on piano), Buster Williams on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

The suite is a series of portraits of musical friends from each sign of the zodiac. (“Aries” is for Ben Webster and Billie Holiday; “Taurus,” with its jungle boogie, is for Duke Ellington.) It is an extended work of great depth and complexity and diversity. Williams lived from 1910 to 1981, and her music touched all the jazz history within that wide span. Her suite collapses time, as blues and early swing evolve into jagged, abstract harmonies. Placing Geri Allen in the piano chair assures that this process of modernization will be carried further. Allen is a Williams scholar but also an instinctive, daring improviser. She credibly represents Williams’ rich suite but also spills it free and reinvents it.

This project to rejuvenate an historic jazz composition is important. Unfortunately, the recorded sound distorts and obscures this vital music.

Originally Published