According to jazz pianist Geri Allen, "The Life of a Song," her latest CD, was inspired by "heroes and heroines." The same could be said for her performance at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Saturday night. Her homage to Rosa Parks and wonderfully imaginative trio arrangements of tunes by Billy Strayhorn and Bud Powell punctuated the evening.
"In Appreciation: A Celebration Song," the Parks tribute, was joyously rooted in gospel chords, and yet like so many of Allen's original pieces, it was multifaceted and suitelike, marked by contrasting hues, rhythms and textures, capped by a vibrant summation.
Powell's "Dance of the Infidels," on the other hand, was arranged to illustrate the pivotal yet often overlooked role he played in the history of jazz piano. Still, it wasn't necessary to be aware of this to appreciate Allen's stylistic reach or her flair for refreshing jazz standards with swirling melodic designs, colorful harmonic alterations and ornamental touches. No interpretation proved more absorbing, though, than her rendering of Strayhorn's "Lush Life," with its soulful prelude and hauntingly shaded harmonies. The dovetailing support provided by bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Mark Johnson was another big plus. Archer and Johnson had to fill some big shoes -- bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette appear on "The Life of a Song" -- but they always seemed in tune with the pianist's touch and mood. Allen paid evocative tribute to other jazz artists as well, including her husband, trumpeter Wallace Roney.
-- Mike Joyce