Geri Allen’s Grand River Crossing: A Vivid Homage to Her Detroit Hometown
It’s always risky to read subtext into a work of art. But pianist Geri Allen‘s new Grand River Crossing – a tribute to the Motown music of her Detroit childhood – has a persistent unease, a plaintive and often poignant quality, in stark contrast with the upbeat material on which most of it is based. To what extent is the album – Allen’s final installment in her mostly-solo trilogy – a reflection on how her hometown has seen a sad transformation from auto capitol of the world to bankrupt Murder City?
Allen’s m.o. here is less to reharmonize a bunch of catchy pop tunes than it is to use their changes as a springboard for improvisation. She opens with a briskly dancing, unrecognizable take on the Michael Jackson hit Wanna Be Starting Something. Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown is reinvented as a haunting, carnivalesque, absolutely brilliant portrait that’s far more true to the title than the original. Stevie Wonder’s That Girl follows some insistently moody variations to a lively, off-the-beaten-path, syncopated romp. Then Allen imbues Ray Brooks’ The Smart Set with a darkly biting, elegaic edge,Marcus Belgrave adding bluesy trumpet. Allen’s solo version of the Beatles’ Let It Be is bitter and jaggedly wounded, as far from the calm resignation of the original as you could possibly imagine.
Belgrave’s Space Odyssey, another duet, builds a broodingly syncopated march around a surreal, microtonal trumpet intro and a brief free interlude. The first Holland/Dozier’Holland tune here, Baby I Need Your Lovin’ plays hide-and-seek with the hook, followed by the second, Itching in My Heart – with David McMurray on alto – done as a pulsing oldschool soul vamp.
Frank Wilson’s Stoned Love is a wary, precise early 60s soul groove – it doesn’t have much of anything to do with jazz, yet it might be the best song on the album. Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues has Allen running the riff in the lefthand against variations in the right; his Save the Children is moody and enigmatic, more question than answer. Allen winds up the album with another duet with Belgrave, Gerald Wilson’s Nancy Joe, finally emerging jauntily from the pervasive darkness that preceded it. There are also three Allen solo miniatures here which for the most part maintain that mood.
No comments yet.