This year the jazz gods have bestowed an early Christmas present upon us. A Lovesome Thing
(truncated from the Billy Strayhorn composition which opens the album), is a seven-song, fifty-three-minute album which documents a remarkable live duo performance from Geri Allen and Kurt Rosenwinkel. It will likely be found on many Top Ten lists this year.
By 2012, Geri Allen was a pianist in demand by the elite of jazz. Artists such as Ornette Coleman
, Tony Williams
, Charlie Haden
, Dave Holland
, Jack DeJohnette
, David Murray
and more all invited her to play with them. She was always willing to try new ideas and sounds in search of musical connections.
In July 2012, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel (no stranger to new ideas and sounds) asked Allen to sit in with his band at The Jazz Standard Club in New York City. "Geri was so impressed with the flow and the freedom of the music she experienced during that one night, that she urged me to arrange another performance with Kurt as soon as possible," explained Ora Harris, Allen's long-time manager. A duo date for them was booked for later that year at the Jazz à la Villette festival in Paris. The concert took place on September 5, 2012, before a packed and hugely appreciative audience, at the famed Philharmonie de Paris, a stunningly beautiful hall with world-renowned acoustics. The music performed that night has just been released.
Allen and Rosenwinkel flew in that night from separate cities. There was no rehearsal. The recording captured the magical synergy which occurred and showed the essence and skill of two like-minded musicians finding common ground through empathy and improvisation.
"A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" opens the album. One can sense them feeling each other out and discovering how their approaches can mesh. It does not take long before common ground is found. They take turns accompanying each other, playing solo without accompaniment and then seemingly soloing together. Thoughts are exchanged and sometimes finished by the other. This song serves as a preview of what is to come.
Next up is "Embraceable You." Arranged by Herbie Hancock
, it begins gently before becoming more strident, featuring dense, Hancock-like chords from Allen. Rosenwinkel's guitar sings during his solo before Allen examines the harmony while Rosenwinkel's backing returns the favor. As Allen says after the song, "I don't know if you recognize the melody, but it was in there"
Rosenwinkel's song, "Simple #2" is a lovely mid-tempo bluesy, bop piece. It allows both musicians to show their mainstream chops. Allen's comping is a perfect foil to Rosenwinkel's solo before she gets her chance to jump in, continuing right where the guitar left off. At this point, one is aware of just how special this performance is.
The centerpiece of the recording is Thelonious Monk
's "Ruby, My Dear." One of the most beautiful compositions in jazz, it begins with Rosenwinkel's sinuous intro for a few minutes, hinting at the song, before they both join in to state the melody. From that moment, it became a master class in jazz improvisation. It is both ethereal and down to earth throughout, due to each musician's approach in seeking to further explore the melody and harmonics.
The closing track, "Open-Handed Reach" was written by Allen as a tribute to Billy Taylor
and had never been recorded. It is a layered, complex ballad which allows each player to examine the melody, and to work through the chord harmonies to support the other's solo. It is the perfect way to end the album. They have found their groove and connection, and everything flows seamlessly from one idea to the next.
In May 1953, Dizzy Gillespie
, Charlie Parker
, Bud Powell
, Charles Mingus
, and Max Roach
played a concert together in Toronto. It was the only time they ever recorded as a unit. Jazz At Massey Hall
(Debut, 1953), the recording of that show, was released later that year and is considered an essential album in the jazz canon.
This album should be looked at in a similar vein. Allen and Rosenwinkel are two of the most influential musicians since the 1980s and 1990s respectively. Its release comes 11 years after their one-time-only get-together. Both players were at the top of their game and had come together without the benefit of rehearsal, which allowed the music to simply flow through them and the results heard here are both exhilarating and spiritual. With Allen's passing in 2017 of cancer, at least it can be said, "We'll always have Paris."
A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Embraceable You; Geri’s Introductions; Simple #2; Ruby My Dear; Kurt’s Introductions; Open-Handed Reach.
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