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ACS: Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding at Mesa Arts Center

Patricia Myers By

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ACS: Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding
Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ
October 22, 2013

The performance by ACS, the trio of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding, was a bold collaboration that showcased each individual talent and their intense synergy.

The repertoire included a salute to Wayne Shorter, via his charts, that the trio has been performing around the nation and overseas in observance of the saxophonist's 80th birthday. This trio of Grammy Award winners, among the world's leading female jazz musicians, came from being the nucleus of The Mosaic Project (Concord Jazz, 2011), Carrington's lauded multi-vocalist studio album.

The evening kicked off with the aural impressionism of Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann," Carrington employing chimes and Thai sticks. A further move into free-form mode came on Shorter's complex "Mysterious Traveler." An unexpected shift into a more mainstream chart, "The End of a Beautiful Friendship," featured Spalding's extensive exploration of the ballad.

The focus throughout seemed to be more on Spalding, now 29 but recognized as jazz force several years before she was the upset winner in the Best New Artist category of the 2011 Grammy Awards. She is a melodic player who constantly stretches into new note and style zones, once playing the neck frets in two-handed keyboard style.

Allen appeared to fill the role of musical matriarch, sometimes sitting with her hands away from the keys as Spalding and Carrington worked a series of exchanges. The pianist's minimalist moves were sparkling interjections, but she didn't really stretch out until late in the program. Her original, "Unconditional Love," was the receptacle for her elegant style, with Spalding whistling part of the melody before shifting into vocalese. Carrington's propellant role often resulted in incessant percussion, but with few separate solo segments.

The evening's encore was "Nothing Like You" from the Miles Davis album, "Sorcerer" (Columbia, 1967) that featured Shorter on tenor sax. The trio took this Bob Dorough chart into new territory, and again provided space for Allen to expend her brilliant keyboard invention.

The trio's improvised harmony may have been disorienting to some in the jazz-primed audience, who were hearing little to impel their feet to tap or their heads to nod. But the content of the concert emphatically demonstrated the elevated skill of each woman, and solidly demonstrated their interwoven intensity and creativity.

The concert was part of a three-year "Jazz from A to Z" project, a collaborative program that connects the center, Mesa Public Schools, Arizona State University, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and its leader, Wynton Marsalis. The program, partially funded this year by a $58,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, includes master classes for Mesa junior high and high school jazz bands, jazz instructors, workshops for teachers and students, and two jazz festivals. It is expected to involve more than 10,000 students and several hundred teachers.

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