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Geri Allen — Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations (2013)

 Geri Allen — Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations (September 9, 2013)

Geri Allen — Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations
Ξ♣  Contemporary pianist was one of the most versatile jazz musicians to come of age in the '80s.
Born: June 12, 1957 in Pontiac, Michigan
Genre: Jazz
Styles: M-Base, Post-Bop, Jazz Instrument, Modern Creative, Piano Jazz, Progressive Jazz
Member of: Mary Lou Williams Collective, Triad
Location: New York
Album release: September 9, 2013
Recording date: August 23, 2012 — August 24, 2012
Record Label: Motéma Music
Duration:     54:33
01 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (Michael Jackson)     2:21 
02 Tears of a Clown (Henry Cosby/Smokey Robinson/Stevie Wonder)     5:31 
03 That Girl (Stevie Wonder)     6:05 
04 Grand River Crossings, Pt. 1 (Geri Allen)     0:48 
05 The Smart Set (Roy Brooks)  feat: Marcus Belgrave     2:54 
06 Let It Be (Paul McCartney)     3:57 
07 Space Odyssey (Marcus Belgrave) feat: Marcus Belgrave     5:36 
08 In Appreciation (Geri Allen)     1:04 
09 Baby I Need Your Lovin' (Lamont Dozier/Brian Holland)     4:29 
10 Itching in My Heart (Lamont Dozier/Brian Holland) feat: David McMurray     1:56 
11 Stoned Love (Frank Wilson)     3:40 
12 Grand River Crossings, Pt. 2 (Geri Allen)     0:52 
13 Inner City Blues (Marvin Gaye)     4:26 
14 Save the Children (Marvin Gaye)     7:15 
15 Nancy Joe (Gerald Wilson) feat: Marcus Belgrave     3:39
2013 Motéma Music LLC
Album Moods: Ambitious Atmospheric Benevolent Bright Brooding Calm/Peaceful Cerebral Cheerful Complex Confident Declamatory Dramatic Dreamy Earthy Energetic Enigmatic Epic Ethereal Exciting Graceful Heroic Improvisatory Intimate Lyrical Mysterious Narrative Organic Poignant Refined Sacred Sophisticated Spiritual Uplifting
Themes: Affection/Fondness Affirmation Maverick The Creative Side
Contemporaries: Ran Blake, Randy Weston, Herbie Nichols, John Hicks,
Lennie Tristano, Don Pullen, Andrew Hill, Anthony Davis, Michel Petrucciani, Danilo Perez
◊♣  Geri Allen  Arranger, Composer, Liner Notes, Piano, Producer
◊♣  Marcus Belgrave  Composer, Tracking, Trumpet
◊♣  Roy Brooks  Composer
◊♣  Henry Cosby  Composer
◊♣  Lamont Dozier  Composer
◊♣  Marvin Gaye  Composer
◊♣  Karl Giant  Cover Photo, Photography
◊♣  Jana Herzen  Executive Producer
◊♣  Brian Holland  Composer
◊♣  Michael Jackson  Composer
◊♣  Gordon H. Jee  Art Direction, Design
◊♣  Jim Luce  Associate Producer
◊♣  David Macmurray  Saxophone
◊♣  Duke Marcos  Vocal Engineer
◊♣  Paul McCartney  Composer
◊♣  David McMurray  Featured Artist, Sax (Alto), Tracking
◊♣  Kunle Mwanga  Producer
◊♣  Greg Phillinganes  Liner Notes
◊♣  Greg Reilly  Engineer
◊♣  Arne Reimer  Portraits
◊♣  Smokey Robinson  Composer
◊♣  Frank Wilson  Composer
◊♣  Gerald Wilson  Composer
◊♣  Stevie Wonder  Composer
Review by Thom JurekScore: ****½
♣  Geri Allen‘s Grand River Crossings pays homage to the music and historic example of her hometown of Detroit. It is named for the pre-interstate, 216-mile thoroughfare that connects the Motor City to Lansing and Grand Rapids. For Allen, Grand River signifies many things, among them a rite of passage, crossing the eight-lane street as a young girl, and later attending the famed Cass Technical High School located on it — the city’s shining educational jewel that has graduated more artists, musicians, engineers, architects, and writers than can adequately be summed up here.
♣  The album is also the third in a series of standalone, largely solo, piano-based works that began with 2010's Flying Toward the Sound and continued with 2011's A Child Is Born.
♣  The program, largely populated with well-known compositions from Motown artists, Detroit jazz icons, fellow Cass Tech alumni, and the pianist, is an exploratory one. Commencing with a physical, busy reading of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” where she extrapolates on the changes, finding numerous subtleties inside the melody, gives way to a gorgeous, speculative intro to a symbiotic take on Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” before gliding gracefully and elegantly through the various shades and depths in Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl.” Allen reinvigorates these songs as models for investigation and improvisation. After her brief title interlude, she turns her attention to Roy Brooks’ “The Smart Set” with Marcus Belgrave on trumpet. ♣  He also guests on her deeply intuitive reading of his own Fantasia-esque “Space Odyssey,” from his 1974 classic Gemini. Allen’s expansive, inverted harmonic version of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Baby I Need Your Lovin’” proves that a great jazz musician can unlock the complex secrets from the simplest melody. She proves more than her brilliance; she reveals the sophistication in the layers underneath — a hallmark of Motown tunes. This is followed by the brief “Itchin’ in My Heart,” another tune by the team that features saxophonist David McMurray. Allen layers deep blues inside its funky groove. The tenderness in her version of the Supremes’ “Stoned Love” is paramount. She exposes the traces of gospel and the black spirituals at the heart of the Civil Rights movement, and reveals the seed of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” in its melody. ♣  She simultaneously reflects on the continued struggle for civil rights and the numerous problems currently oppressing Detroit. First there’s the aggressive, almost militant reading of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” It’s followed by a confident, extended, harmonically revisioned version of his “Save the Children,” which is an exhortation, not a plea. Allen and Belgrave close the set with a breezy duet take on famed jazz arranger — and native Detroiter — Gerald Wilson’s “Nancy Joe” (sic) from his paramount 1962 set Moment of Truth, revealing the glorious swing in Detroit’s jazz tradition. Of her 19 offerings, Grand River Crossings is certainly her most personal. It’s also among her very best.
Artist Biography by Chris Kelsey
♣  Geri Allen is the quintessence of what a present-day mainstream jazz pianist should be. Well-versed in a variety of modern jazz styles from bop to free, Allen steers a middle course in her own music, speaking in a cultivated and moderately distinctive voice, respectful of, but not overly impressed with, the doctrine of conservatism that often rules the mainstream scene. There is little conceptually that separates her from her most obvious models — Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans primary among them — yet Allen plays with a spontaneity and melodic gift that greatly transcend rote imitation. Her improvisational style is at various times both spacious and dense, rubato and swinging, blithe and percussive. It's a genuinely expressive, personal voice; her music is an amalgam — honestly conceived, intelligently accessible, and well within the bounds of what is popularly expected from a jazz musician of her generation.
♣  Allen received her early jazz education at the famed Cass Technical High School in Detroit, where her mentor was the highly regarded trumpeter/teacher Marcus Belgrave. ♣  In 1979, Allen earned her bachelor's degree in jazz studies from Howard University in Washington, D.C. After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she studied with the veteran bop pianist Kenny Barron. From there, at the behest of the jazz educator Nathan Davis, Allen attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning a Master's degree in ethnomusicology, returning to New York in 1982. In the mid-'80s, Allen formed an association with the Brooklyn "M-Base" crowd that surrounded alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. Allen played on several of Coleman's albums, including his first, 1985's Motherland Pulse. Allen's own first album, The Printmakers, with Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, from a year earlier, showcased the pianist's more avant-garde tendencies.
♣  In 1988 came perhaps her first mature group statement, Etudes, a cooperative trio effort with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian — Allen's loose-limbed lyricism and off-center linearity were perfectly complemented by the innate tunefulness of bassist Haden and the unerring timbral sense of drummer Motian. In the '90s, Allen signed first with Blue Note, then Verve. Her subsequent records placed her in ever more conventional contexts, supported by the cream of the mainstream "Young Lions" crop. ♣  As a soloist, however, Allen continued to push the improvisational envelope, as evidenced by Sound Museum, a 1996 recording made under the leadership of Ornette Coleman. The solo Gathering followed in 1998. Allen was named the top Talent Deserving Wider Recognition among pianists in the 1993 and 1994 Down Beat magazine critics' polls. Her significant collaborators to date included saxophonists Oliver Lake, Arthur Blythe, and Julius Hemphill, trumpeter Lester Bowie, and singer Betty Carter.
♣  To kick off the 21st century, Allen recorded Live at the Village Vanguard with Motian and Haden for the Japanese DIW imprint. She followed it with another label change in 2004 when she moved to Telarc for Life of a Song with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. She remained on the label for 2006's Timeless Portraits and Dreams, a collection of spirituals, gospel songs, and bebop tunes. Her rhythm section for the date included bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb, with trumpeter Wallace Roney appearing on a version of Charlie Parker's "Au-Leu-Cha." Allen not only changed labels again in 2009, but her standard piano trio configuration as well. Three Pianos for Jimi, on Douglas Records, is a tribute to legendary rock guitarist Hendrix. It was recorded with two other pianists — brothers Mark and Scott Batson — and featured no other instrumentation. Allen, who also serves as an associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, recorded her solo piano work Flying Toward the Sound, which celebrates the contributions and influence of Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock, in 2009. It was released on the Motéma imprint in 2010. In 2011, Allen released the Christmas-themed A Child Is Born, featuring a mix of traditional carols, hymns, and some original songs. In 2012, she issued Secret of the Wind, on Outnote, a duet album with vocalist Elisabeth Kontomanou. Allen revisited the sounds of her hometown on 2013's Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations.
Website: http://www.geriallen.com/
◊♣  2013  Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations   Motéma Music
◊♣  2011  A Child Is Born    Motéma Music
◊♣  2010  Flying Toward the Sound    Motéma Music
◊♣  2010  "Geri Allen & Timeline"    Motéma Music
◊♣  2006  Zodiac Suite Revisited    Mary Records
◊♣  2006  Timeless Portraits and Dreams    Telarc
◊♣  2004 The Life of a Song    Telarc
◊♣  1998 The Gathering    Polygram
◊♣  1996 Some Aspects of Water (Live)    Storyville
◊♣  1996  Eyes in the Back of Your Head    Blue Note
◊♣  1994 Twenty One    Blue Note
◊♣  1992  Maroons     Blue Note
◊♣  1990  The Nurturer    Blue Note
◊♣  1990 Live at the Village    Vanguard DIW
◊♣  1990  Open on All Sides in the Middle    Polygram
◊♣  1989 Segments    DIW
◊♣  1989 In the Year of the Dragon    JMT
◊♣  1989 Twylight    Polygram
◊♣  1985 Home Grown    Minor Music
◊♣  1984 The Printmakers    Minor Music

Geri Allen — Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations (2013)




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