December 2004

Geri Allen - The Life of a Song
Telarc SACD-63598
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2004

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Pianist Geri Allen is surprisingly still something of an unknown quantity to many jazz lovers. The fact that she has recorded a number of critically acclaimed albums seems not to have helped move her into the limelight. Her latest recording, The Life of A Song, should be just the impetus to rectify that oversight. Backed by the estimable Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, Allen explores all the in and outs of playing a song.

Of the 11 tracks on this disc, only three will be easily recognized by jazz fans: Billy Strayhorn’s "Lush Life," Bud Powell’s "Dance of the Infidels," and Mal Waldron’s "Soul Eyes." The remaining eight are Allen originals, but that doesn’t invalidate the album’s title, for all the numbers are explored harmonically and melodically. Allen explores the inner life of these songs and what they say to her.

As should be expected, Allen handles the three jazz standards wonderfully, holding the melody right in front while delving into all the possibilities. But it is her way of making the unfamiliar -- her own tunes -- both interesting as well as accessible that is so becoming. Each is an arresting combination of creativity and improvisation, while still remaining completely understandable. It is these qualities in her playing that make her so compelling.

The Life of A Song should usher in a new period in Geri Allen’s musical life, one of broader appreciation. This is a truly wonderful recording. The CD layer of this hybrid SACD is very well transferred, the stereo hi-rez layer is superb, and Michael Bishop’s multi-track mix is appropriately handled. The Life of A Song is a terrific match of artistic and technical achievement.