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Jen Allen's debut as a leader, Pieces of Myself, is an eclectic collection of original compositions. Among the members of the pianist, composer and educator's sextet is her husband, saxophonist Kris Allen
. Allen, who studied cello prior to switching to jazz piano, draws on her broad musical experience to display her versatility as a composer and an arranger. The styles displayed on Pieces of Myself vary from funky to straight-ahead ballads, with enough improvisation to keep the sound smart and sharp.
The title track opens the collection with one of the more forceful grooves, though Allen's arrangement is more thoughtful and slightly edgier than standard fare. She allows trumpeter Josh Evans
. In a similarly funky vein, "The Repercussions" has both Allens taking some tasteful solos. "Once Again" slows down the tempo but maintains a popping rhythm before "Pining" returns to a more complex and driving rhythm.
The most dramatic change of pace comes with "Good Friday," which opens with Frédéric Chopin's "Prelude in E-Minor (op.28 no. 4)," seamlessly manipulated by the pianist into an excellent, improvised creation of her own. Drummer Lee Fish
guides the shift with a light touch before Baron takes an excellent extended solo. It's from this point on that Pieces of Myself really takes off as an inventive post-modern pleasure, as the group hits its stride and plays with abandon on "Marble Hill" and "In Between The Lines," which features scorching solos from Evans and both Allens that are among the high points of the album.
Pieces of Myself closes with the only cover, Ray Nobel's "The Very Thought of You." Allen applies a very distinct and innovative post-bop treatment that makes a somewhat overdone tune feel categorically exhilarating. Pieces of Myself improves with every listen. The inventiveness of the compositions builds throughout, and when Allen finds her center she works it resolutely, even while keeping the program diverse.
Track Listing: Pieces of Myself; The Repercussions; Once Again; Pining; Good Friday; In Between the Lines; Marble Hill; The Very Thought of You.
Personnel: Jen Allen: piano; Dave Baron: bass; Lee Fish: drums; Kris Allen: alto saxophone; Josh Evans: trumpet; Andrew Renfroe: guitar.