Elisabeth Kontomanou Featuring Geri Allen: Secret of the Wind

Vocalist Elisabeth Kontomanou first met pianist Geri Allen in March 2011, when both were invited to participate in a Billie Holiday tribute presented in Montreal by the Jazz en Rafale festival. They immediately bonded, igniting a lively correspondence that often centered around thoughts on faith.

Four months later, they reunited in a Normandy studio to create Secret of the Wind, a magnificent work that is both specifically and generally sacred. The disc’s core comprises traditional Afro-American spirituals and likeminded compositions by Marvin Gaye, Grady Tate, Curtis Mayfield, Billy Taylor, Ralph Carmichael and Kontomanou herself (contributing the title track and another original piece). Those tracks are augmented by a trio of secular pop standards-“If I Ruled the World,” “L.O.V.E.” and “Nature Boy”-that broaden the album’s theme to one of peace, love and understanding.

Allen devotees might be surprised by the tremendous restraint she demonstrates. Though she is a full and richly imaginative partner in this project, she clearly appreciates its reverential tone. Kontomanou responds with her finest session to date, magnificently suggesting the musicianship of Carmen McRae blended with the grit of Nina Simone. The depth of their mutual respect is evident throughout, though it is perhaps most superbly demonstrated on Kontomanou’s “Everybody Was Born Free,” propelled by Allen’s steadily knotting and unknotting of tension, and a fiery, testifying treatment of Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.”