Live at the Village Vanguard

Geri Allen

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Live at the Village Vanguard Review

by Don Snowden

What a shame this trio didn't keep working together longer -- the finely honed veteran rhythm section of Charlie Haden and Paul Motian was a match made in heaven for Geri Allen, the most stylistically versatile and creative pianist of her generation. But praise the music gods they managed to record as much as they did, even though Live at the Village Vanguard may not be the best starting point to sample the interaction of this creatively balanced trio. The compositions, split among all three, avoid repetition with studio releases -- but don't expect any fireworks. The opening "Prayer for Peace" is as low-key and moody as the title would suggest, and "Obtuse Angles" seems designed mainly to provide frameworks for brief individual breakdowns. There's an underlying somberness running through "It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago" and the ruminative "Fiasco" that seems to come from Allen -- her spare playing style generally shows a fondness for the lower and middle registers, so it's not entirely out of musical character. Motian's solo at the end of "Fiasco" starts energizing the music -- if any one member of the trio really shines bright on this disc, it's the drummer. But Allen's pensiveness remains on "In the Year of the Dragon," even as Haden's lines weave countermelodies to her piano at the end. "Vanguard Blues" briefly brings the tempo up before Haden's arco bass imitates underwater whale speech on "Song for the Whales" and Allen's haunting piano melody complements the bassist's mammalian moans. Live at the Village Vanguard is a good CD musically, but there's not much jump-up factor here -- it's moody and very bluesy in feeling if not actual form, almost like chamber jazz at times. The very compressed, muted recorded sound doesn't alleviate the somber aspect of the listening experience any, but jazz is about capturing the moment. And those were the moments, emotional and musical, caught by these three master musicians on those two December nights.

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