Jazz Promo Services The Mary Lou Williams Collective - Zodiac Suite: Revisited Mary Records (M104) Geri Allen (piano & musical director); Buster Williams; Billy Hart; Andrew Cyrille. Street Date February 7, 2006 The Mary Lou Williams Collective, under the musical direction of pianist/arranger/composer Geri Allen, reexamines and revitalizes Mary Lou Williams' Zodiac Suite - the first lady of instrumental jazz's landmark 1945 recording of her collection of twelve solo, duo and trio piano pieces named for the astrological signs of the fellow jazz greats to whom they are dedicated - on Zodiac Suite: Revisited. Allen, joined by virtuoso bassist Buster Williams (Mary Lou Williams' frequent colleague) and drummer Billy Hart (the very creative third member of the younger pianist's working trio from 2003), in the words of producer Father Peter O'Brien, SJ, explores and explodes the music ... preserving the composition, but putting herself entirely into it." In addition to the selections from the suite, the trio also recreates Williams' exciting collaboration with bassist Milton Suggs, Intermission." On the date's other two selections, Herbie Nichols' The BeBop Waltz" (a favorite of Mary Lou's) and Thank You Madam" (Allen's dedication to Williams), the great Andrew Cyrille, who had performed often with Williams and appeared on Allen's debut recording, makes a guest appearance on drums. Zodiac Suite: Revisited begins, as the original does, with Aries" - Williams' dedication to Ben Webster and Billie Holiday, uniquely talented artists who the composer called pioneers, people who create sounds and things you've never heard before." Initially recorded as a piano-bass duet, Billy Hart opens Allen's arrangement alone on drums, rhythmically transforming the composition, which featured a Monkish melodic line with a boogie woogie mid-section in its earlier incarnation (described by trumpeter Dave Douglas as a post-modern construction). The Collective's interpretation is radically different, alluding to the impressionism of Herbie Hancock (Allen's primary influence) and the shifting moods and tempos of his work with Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the Miles Davis Quintet, before emphatically stating Mary Lou Williams' memorable melody utilizing parallel octaves. Taurus," the second section of Zodiac Suite, was composed by Williams prior to the other sections of the suite. Representing her own birth sign, it is also dedicated to Duke Ellington and Ellis Larkins, Allen's reflective solo piano introduction replicating the elegance of those two pianists. The body of the piece is reminiscent of Ellington's jungle band," with the pianist's ominous left hand line and dissonant right hand clusters setting the mood over Hart's mallets. Buster Williams' melodic bass is spotlighted here. Allen's arrangement of Williams' Gemini" follows the spirit of the original recording faithfully, utilizing an uptempo boogie woogie left hand line on top of which she builds a playful childlike theme assembled from a progressively constructed musical scale. After a brief ethereal interlude the trio restates the boogie woogie theme before moving into a more modernistic motif that hearkens to latter day Ellington. Cancer" is melancholy melody in a minor mode, a composition of uncommon beauty, that moves between Allen's slowly waltzing piano rhythm to a more open landscape created by Hart's quietly dynamic cymbals and Williams softly bowed bass. Hart opens Leo" boldly with a martial drum beat before Allen states the Williams theme's fanfare with a menacing exaggerated dissonance. Dedicated to Vic Dickenson, the piece's middle section is a moving memorial to the great trombonist's beautiful way with a ballad, to which Allen introduces a modern harmonic touch reminiscent of Coltrane's Naima" and Mc Coy Tyner, before the trio revisits the opening's flourishes. Virgo" is a swinging medium tempo blues that reflects Williams' early allegiance to the bebop revolution. Allen's Monkish articulation follows the original's mood, as does Buster Williams powerful walking bass. Mary Lou dedicated this composition to Leonard Feather, one of the new music's first journalistic champions. Allen performs Libra" as a solo piano piece, just as Mary Lou originally did. The earliest composed section of the suite (along with Aries"), Williams dedicated it to Dizzy, Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Monk, who she described as very beautiful friends." As Dan Morgenstern observes in his notes to Zodiac Suite, it has a very pretty opening and attractive, impressionistic harmonic movement" - qualities which make it a perfect vehicle for modern interpretation by Allen. Buster Williams introduces Scorpio" with a rhythmic bass figure and is then joined by Hart, with wide cymbals splashes followed by softly malleted drums, before Allen's entrance, which is vaguely reminiscent of Juan Tizol's Ellingtonian classic Caravan" in its eastern mood. The final four sections of the suite are all solo piano pieces originally improvised live by Williams on her weekly WNEW radio program. Sagittarius" was first dedicated to pianist Eddie Heywood and later to bassist Bob Cranshaw by Mary Lou. It's a thoughtful theme Morgenstern compared to Bix Beiderbecke's In A Mist." Allen's interpretation retains the original's pastoral quality in a slightly more modern way that also hearkens to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Capricorn" is a melancholy melody in a minor mode (written for Williams' Caf Society compatriot, trumpeter Frankie Newton) that Allen delivers with percussive aplomb. Aquarius" is an attractive piece with modulating moods that Williams dedicated to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The concluding Pisces" is an elusive Williams waltz that highlights Allen's beautiful touch and tone. The trio of Allen, Buster Williams and Andrew Cyrille perform pianist Herbie Nichols attractive composition The BeBop Waltz," a piece Mary Lou recorded three times under the title Mary's Waltz." Although the previous recordings improperly credited the composition to Williams, producer O'Brien sets the record straight here, noting the true composer and Williams love and respect for the unheralded genius, Nichols. Buster Williams is featured with a moving, articulate solo on this gorgeous rendition. Billy Hart is back with Williams and Allen on Intermission," the 1973 collaboration between Mary Lou and bassist Milton Suggs, previously recorded on the elder pianist's excellent Zoning album. The whole trio stretches out on this swinging interpretation of the exciting composition, with Allen's melodic pianism anchored by Buster Williams' powerful bass ostinato and propelled Hart's energetic drumming. The date concludes with Thank You Madam," a tender ballad composed by Geri Allen in honor of Mary Lou Williams especially for this recording with Buster Williams and Andrew Cyrille. Producer O'Brien insightfully describes the piece as one which is built up from a musical motif which gently rises and softly resolves, then rises again and resolves and continues in this hopeful manner, until it peacefully and quietly dissolves. It is a loving tribute from Geri Allen, who would especially know the musical heart of Mary Lou Williams." Geri Allen, as musical director of the Mary Lou Williams Collective, is particularly well suited to revive the musical legacy of the great Mary Lou Williams. Zodiac Suite: Revisited, pristinely recorded by DJ Val Jeanty (of Allen's husband Wallace Roney's band) on Allen's own piano in her Montclair, NJ home, is an intimate revisitation to this important music. Future releases by the Collective are to include a disc of nine Williams originals with guest appearances by vocalists Andy Bey and Honi Gordon and another date featuring some of Mary Lou's previously unrecorded sacred music. With Geri Allen at the piano, the music of Mary Lou Williams is alive and well for yet another new generation of jazz lovers, ensuring the great lady's musical immortality. Media Contact: Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services 269 S Route 94 Warwick, NY 10990 T: 845-986-1677 / F: 845-986-1699 E-Mail: [email protected]
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