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In March, Geri Allen performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Stanley Kaplan Penthouse with Daryl Hall (bass) and Billy Hart (drums), a coincidental CD release for this very musical Mary Lou Williams' Collective release that features Allen with an alternating trio featuring Buster Williams (bass) and Hart as well as Andrew Cyrille (drums).
As Williams disproved many a fallacy in her timein particular that women could not be successful let alone influential in the jazz worldso too has Allen carved out quite a nice present-day niche for herself as one of the best jazz musicians on the scene. I can't imagine anyone else taking on Williams' music for such a project as thisafter all, she "played" the role of Williams in that dreadful film with the nice soundtrack, Kansas City.
In the spirit of the Mingus Dynasty or Dameronia, the canon of the group's namesake is recreated as true to its original as possible while retaining the interpreters' personal touch. Allen's forceful two-handed punch at the piano, like that of her idol's, successfully features plenty of blues, ragtime, boogie-woogie, spirituals, bop, and beyond, and in doing so ideally captures that incessant and inherent characteristic of Williams, who was always moving and exploring in her playing and composing. It's not a fact to easily ignore that Williams had her hand quite literally in every major era of jazz.
The harmonic, melodic and rhythmic nuances and varied tempos from one section to the next reflect Williams' original compositional concept, making the flow of one tune (or rather movement) to the next a natural development. Each section of the 12-part "Zodiac Suite" is a focused color and emotion expressed with plenty of turns and spins. From the youthful piano exercise of "Gemini" with its playful left-hand part; the reflective right-hand rain drops, light cymbals, and arco bass of "Cancer"; the blossoming thick chords from the opening snare march theme of "Leo"; to "Libra," with its Ellington-like elegance and "Scorpio," with its hypnotic bass and drum interactionthis is the first installment of much more in store for the Mary Lou Williams Collective. Rumor has it the next volume of material will feature vocalists Andy Bey and Honey Gordon.