GERI ALLEN "Timeless Portraits and Dreams" Telarc

Friday, October 6, 2006

GERI ALLEN"Timeless Portraits and Dreams"Telarc

THERE ARE TIMES WHEN pianist Geri Allen so thoroughly refreshes a pop or jazz standard on her new CD that you may find yourself reaching for the "repeat" button. But rewards also await listeners who allow Allen to segue, say, from a warmly reharmonized, Herbie Hancock-inspired arrangement of George Gershwin's "Embraceable You" into a lively and whimsical rendering of Charlie Parker's bop anthem "Ah-Leu-Cha." It's no coincidence that both performances find Allen in remarkable company, playing in a trio alongside bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Allen's haunting solo interpretation of Nino Rota's "La Strada" and the album's mood-setting title track, a lyrical and textured trio performance, aren't to be missed either.

These intimate delights aren't entirely representative of the album, though. Allen hits some spiritual (and audacious) high notes, too, especially when she enlists the help of George Shirley, the first African American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Shirley joins the Atlanta Jazz Chorus on "I Have a Dream," which was composed by jazz legend Mary Lou Williams -- one of Allen's principal influences -- and adapted from the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Shirley and the chorus reappear on the bonus disc and perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing.")

Other guests, notably singer Carmen Lundy and trumpeter Wallace Roney, the pianist's husband, enhance the moods and underscore the powerful emotions that make this recording Allen's most ambitious and uplifting collaboration yet.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

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