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"The Life of a Song is a profoundly personal album, a labor of love, and an appreciation of guiding lights that have paved the way for the radiant musical maturation of Geri Allen."—Dan Ouellette, from the liner notes
One of the jazz highlights of the year has arrived. Geri Allen's new release, The Life of a Song, is the acclaimed pianist/composer's first new release in six years. Adventurous yet accessible, the eleven tracks on Allen's Telarc debut reach back to her Detroit upbringing and are a celebration of the past, present and future.
Produced by Geri Allen and Elaine Martone at Avatar Studios in New York City in January 2004, The Life of a Song is primarily a trio date featuring one of the best rhythm sections in jazz, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette (along with Allen, they supported vocalist Betty Carter on her 1993 album Feed the Fire). "It was such a wonderful feeling to work with them again," Allen says. "I'm very grateful for their participation on this project."
The Life of a Song spotlights eight imaginative new compositions that explore themes of family, motherhood and spirituality. "LBW's House (The Remix)" was originally titled "Laila's House." Allen explains, "Laila, our oldest daughter, is now joined by our son Wally and Barbara, our youngest, hence the re-mix." "Mounts and Mountains" was inspired by Geri's father, Mount Vernell Allen, Jr., and brother Mount Vernell Allen, III. The title track was inspired by Herbie Hancock's brilliant writing and playing, and Allen says she was just "waiting for the right opportunity to record it." "Holdin' Court" is a remembrance of Betty Carter.
"In Appreciation: a Celebration Song" is Allen's joyous tribute to Rosa Parks, who lives in Detroit. The Motor City also figures prominently in two other Allen originals: "The Experiment Movement," a tribute to dancer/choreographer Jacquelyn Hillsman, and "Black Bottom," which pays homage to the Black community where jazz lived. "I wanted to honor the memory of Black Bottom because it's not there anymore," says Allen. "There is a Black Bottom in every city."
The Life of a Song also includes three standards: Billy Strayhorn's masterpiece "Lush Life," Bud Powell's whimsical "Dance of the Infidels" and Mal Waldron's rapturous ballad "Soul Eyes" (with flugelhornist Marcus Belgrave, saxophonist Dwight Andrews and trombonist Clifton Anderson).
"These compositions are timeless classics, and I wanted to challenge myself." Allen says. "All three men pushed the music forward, and I'm in awe of the contributions they made. I was so influenced by Strayhorn's writing—it's almost theatrical and so advanced harmonically. 'The amazing' Bud Powell was an innovator who mesmerized everyone, and all jazz pianists follow in his footsteps. 'Soul Eyes' is a personal tribute to Mal Waldron. I'm honored to have had a chance to work with him."
Allen has consistently demonstrated a bold, authoritative approach that receives much deserved critical acclaim. After graduating with a degree in jazz studies from Howard University in Washington, DC, she attended the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a master's degree in ethnomusicology.
In addition to teaching as an Assistant Professor of Music at Howard, Allen has amassed a stunning resume of musical collaborations. Her colleagues have included modern greats Charles Lloyd (with whom she's been touring for two years), Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Mary Wilson and The Supremes, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian and Betty Carter. Allen's excellent musicianship was internationally recognized in 1996 when she was the first woman to win the coveted Danish Jazzpar prize. In 1998, Verve released Allen's acclaimed CD, The Gathering, with trumpeter (and husband) Wallace Roney. In 2003, Allen co-scored an HBO documentary, Beah Richards, A Black Woman Speaks.
"A dear friend once told me that 'the life of a song' is a music industry phrase," says Allen. "But that's not what I meant. In my mind, we play this music over and over again, and it does live."