Let’s start with the title of Geri Allen’s first CD in six long years. "Long years" in the sense that this is a pianist who should be recording much more frequently as a leader of her own trio, although it was possible to catch her touring with Charles Lloyd, ever since Brad Mehldau moved on. Combined with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, Allen has established an übertrio, in the class with, say, Keith Jarrett’s or Mehldau’s, distinguished by its own unified personality of equally individualistic musicians. The title also encapsulates Allen’s thoughts about the nature of music as well, in that music, once created and heard, lives on eternally in a spiritual realm as it’s rechanneled in an aural context and as it influences human beings through a bringing together and through healing and through facilitating the rituals of living. And then, there’s the title’s intended reference to Herbie Hancock, whose influence on Allen’s style is apparent, even on the first track, "LWB’s House (The Remix)," after the initial theme settles into Empyrean Isles-
like improvisation. The Life Of A Song
is a very personal album for Allen, and perhaps for that reason it succeeds so well. It’s full of references to her family, including the feelings for her children and her husband, Wallace Roney. But it also musically evokes her childhood family, led by her father Mount Vernell Allen, as she plays "Mounts And Mountains," a magisterial piece in a minor key built upon a forcefully presented motive at first over a pedal point and then in contrapuntal complexity. And then "Black Bottom" alludes, not to the 1920’s dance, but to the neighborhood in Detroit, Paradise Valley, where she grew up. With funk and jubilation, she recreates the feel of the area when the jazz greats came through to perform in the local clubs. Even funkier is Allen’s "In Appreciation: A Celebration Song," which she wrote in tribute to Rosa Parks, who continues to live in Detroit. Even on the final piece, the recently departed Mal Waldron’s "Soul Eyes," Allen, despite the sheer beauty of the performance which involves slight remodulations, calls in her Detroit mentor, Marcus Belgrave on flugelhorn (as well as Dwight Andrews on sax and Clifton Anderson on trombone).
Allen covers two other standards, each of them quite different from the other. Billy Strayhorn’s "Lush Life" receives a respectful interpretation, played mostly in the middle and second treble registers with tight chords that belie the difficulty of the changes and the intervals, as Holland and DeJohnette add additional colors to the palette. And then Bud Powell’s "Dance Of The Infidels," played at medium tempo, evolves into Allen’s style that combines the bop with Hancock-like build-up of tunes into unexpected territory with its own peaks and valleys occurring as a result of harmonic development within the song. The Life Of A Song
stands on its own as a superlative piano trio recording, full of delights throughout as well as personal feeling the comes through in the intensity of the playing. But also, it sparks the realization that Geri Allen has grown into pianist with her own vision that she expresses successfully through music. Entirely melodic even as Allen evolves each song into a gem-like object attracting multi-faceted fascination, the songs of the CD are accessible even as they are the product of complex musical development and exceptional musicianship by all of the members of the trio.