Lucid Culture


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.

October 24, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The One and Nines

If you love oldschool soul music, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings or Eli “Paperboy” Reed, you will love the One and Nines – they are the real deal. With piano, organ, horns, understatedly gorgeous guitar, a slinky rhythm section and the warmly irresistible, heartfelt vocals of frontwoman Vera Sousa, the vibe is totally mid-60s. If the band had existed when John Waters did Hairspray, this album would have been the logical choice for the movie soundtrack.

The album kicks off with Walked Alone, a gorgeously catchy, upbeat tune straight out of Memphis, 1968 with big honking baritone sax. Sousa shows off an effortlessly bright, soaring, unselfconscious style in the vein of 1960s soul icon Bettye Swann while the guitar and bass soar just in the right places. The second track, Wait is a longing, insistent 6/8 ballad like Sharon Jones in a particularly vulnerable moment – horns rise out of the end of the verse, then it’s just tremolo organ and Sousa’s sweet voice.

“You say I look like I’m always bored, but are you just speaking for yourself?” Sousa asserts gently but insistently in Something on Your Mind, backed by gently incisive guitar and a Willie Mitchell-inspired horn chart. Just Your Fool is a duet, one of the guys joining with Sousa’s fetching harmonies for a pre-Motown vibe, from right around the time doo-wop started to morph into something more interesting. The band follows Sousa as she builds intensity on Anything You Got, a psychedelic soul groove with organ and then Steve Cropper-esque guitar, finally fading out with soulful muted trumpet over the band’s shuffling rhythm. Guitar finally takes centerstage, if only for a few moments on the bright, bouncy horn-driven Tears Fall. The secret bonus track, an alternate take of Just Your Fool, might have the best vocals on the whole album. All of these songs would have been hits in the 60s – or some hardcore soul fan would be rediscovering them right about now and trying to get the surviving members of the band back together, that’s how good this is. Mixed by Hugh Pool at Excello and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the production has the feel of an old vinyl record, vocals up front, drums back where they need to be. Even better news is that the band’s got a 7″ vinyl single coming out hot on the heels of the album – get your 45 adapters ready. Watch this space for NY-area live dates.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments