GERI ALLEN

"The Life of a Song"

Telarc

The latest Downbeat Critics Poll cites Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette as the best bassist and the second-best drummer, respectively, in all of jazz. So it's no surprise that rhythm plays a prominent role on "The Life of a Song," the new piano trio album featuring Geri Allen backed by Holland and DeJohnette. An alumna of Howard University and now a music professor there, Allen composed eight of the album's 11 pieces, and she fills them with rhythmic problems that produce dramatic struggles and satisfying resolutions.

"Black Bottom," for example, begins with a funk pattern that strives to get some momentum going but continually jerks to a stop, as if the band were alternately pressing the accelerator and the brakes. But each time the tension is released with a lyrical, swinging piano line, the effect feels liberating. "In Appreciation: A Celebration Song" opens with a catchy soul-music phrase on the piano that is soon echoed by the bass and drums. Once her partners have control of the theme, Allen abandons the motif and attacks it from various angles with chordal jabs and counter-harmonies.

None of this would work as well as it does if Allen didn't articulate her rhythms as clearly and as muscularly as her partners do. Nor would it work if Holland and DeJohnette couldn't imply a melody as ably as they can handle a beat. As it is, the tension-and-release patterns in the rhythm are complemented by similar patterns in Allen's harmonies, which continually knot and untie, knot and untie. Her eight impressive originals are supplemented by standards from Billy Strayhorn, Bud Powell and Mal Waldron, and on the latter's "Soul Eyes" the trio is joined by three horns.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Saturday at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Geri Allen, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)