Geri Allen Meets Her Match and Channels Her


Featuring pianist Geri Allen, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Billy Hart reinterpreting 12 musing, semi-improvised pieces Mary Lou Williams introduced one at a time on her weekly radio program in 1945 and recorded for Moe Asch the same year, Zodiac Suite: Revisited is—like The Lady Who Swings the Band—as much a valentine as a retrospective. Combining hints of what was taking shape at Minton’s with traditional touches like the boogie-woogie bass figure that runs through “Gemini” like a slowed-down

Chattanooga choo-choo, Williams’s piano miniatures solidified her reputation as both proto-modernist and flamekeeper. There are recurring motifs, but they’re less important than mood in imparting a sense of a unified work—the voicings revolve around the bass clef, and the overall impression is of Williams rummaging through her subconscious. (When she expanded three of the movements for Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in 1957, they lost their spell.) Allen’s performances are above reproach even to the liberties she takes—those needling clusters, suspended rhythms, and dissonant harmonies are implicit in Williams’s original recordings, and here they’re just more pronounced. Andrew Cyrille replaces Hart on three extras, including Herbie Nichols’s “The Bebop Waltz” (recorded by Williams in 1951, though never by its composer); tasty as these are, they feel tacked on. But this is the best Geri Allen CD since her three encounters with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian in the late ’80s. This is not material she can drift away from.