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The Mary Lou Williams Collective: Zodiac Suite: Revisited (2006)

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The Mary Lou Williams Collective: Zodiac Suite: Revisited How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The Zodiac Suite was composed by pianist Mary Lou Williams in 1944-45 and recorded shortly thereafter. It was also performed on Williams' weekly radio program in 1944. The suite consists of twelve segments, each musically describing one sign of the Zodiac, and is regarded as Mary Lou Williams' most important work. Each of the compositions was dedicated by Williams to personalities as diverse as Ben Webster, Leonard Feather and then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It has been sixty years since the last recording of the complete Zodiac Suite. This project was sponsored by the Mary Lou Williams Foundation, and the Collective heard here is led by pianist/composer Geri Allen, who long been known as a Wiliams scholar. Allen is assisted by bassist Buster Williams, who also played for Mary Lou Williams, and drummer Billy Hart, both current members of Allen's group. The album has been augmented with additional recordings; Andrew Cyrille takes over the drum chair on two of these compositions.

Mary Lou Williams' personal manager, Father Peter O'Brien, made the decision to place this project in the hands of Geri Allen, who remains a good choice to interpret the music, inasmuch as she is both a traditonalist as well as a contemporary explorer of bebop. On the various segments of the suite, it is easy to discern Mary Lou Williams' stride piano, as well as swing and blues playing. On certain of the compositions, like "Leo" or "Scorpio," it is easy to spot her updates to the sound.

The three additional tracks are Herbie Nichols' "The Bebop Waltz," a piece that Mary Lou Williams often played in performance; Williams' "Intermission"; and Geri Allen's "Thank You Madam," an homage to the collective's dedicatee. These three tracks demonstrate Allen's ability to contemporize the music of one of the key pianists and composers of the Twentieth Century.

The Mary Lou Williams Collective has committed to, and completed, a second project of nine Williams originals, with guest appearances by vocalists Andy Bey and Honey Gordon, and is already at work on another album of her previously unrecorded sacred music.

Track Listing: Zodiak Suite (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces); The Bebop Waltz; Intermission; Thank You Madam.

Personnel: Geri Allen: piano; Buster Williams: bass; Billy Hart or Andrew Cyrille (13,15): drums.

Record Label: Mary Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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