Geri Allen's sixth recording, and a reprise of her 1987 Soul Note recording Etudes, has her again in the mighty company of bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, a dream team for any modern jazz pianist. Certainly up for the challenge, Allen fits right in beautifully, and inspires Haden and Motian to energize their personal styles. They collectively dive into the deft harmonic and melodic trappings of the leader, though all certainly adopt a pure sense of democracy and understand their shared values with this heady brand of progressive music. Everyone contributes compositions, and they play revisions of standards with a common thread among their past associations. Bud Powell's "Oblivion" is taken at an animated, maddeningly fast tempo, but the trio drops not one beat or note. Ornette Coleman's tricky post-bop icon "The Invisible" is also played to absolute perfection, and these tracks mark the utter maturation of Allen's immense talent. The epitome of the trio's convergence as a unit is manifested during "No More Mr. Nice Guy" (not the Alice Cooper tune), a slightly macabre tune that expresses darkness through light from a startlingly subtle and heavy salvo of sunrise tones, bass into ringing chords, a march interlude, and semi-bop starts and stops in a totally compelling construct bearing many repeat listenings. Haden's placid "First Song" dips deeply into an emotional well, while "See You at Per Tutti's" conversely exudes an easy bluesy vintage swing. Motian's pieces "Last Call" and the title track move between a free, gospel-tinged turnaround and a mysterious implied melody accented by Allen's signature chordal motifs, respectively. Allen also contributes this yin and yang philosophy on her arrangement of the traditional Juan Lazaro Mendolas piece "Rollano," with Mendolas on the quena/wood flute, and the very slow Thelonious Monk-like heartfelt tribute "For John Malachi," dedicated to her mentor at Howard University. Fully realized, diverse, and balanced, this piano-bass-drums trio recording is one of the very best of its late-'80s era, loaded with great musicianship, surprises, and an accurate representation of these genius musicians' personalities and individualism blended into a complete whole. In the Year of the Dragon is highly recommended to all who appreciate superb musicianship coming together.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos