Geri Allen, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington Samueli Theater 10/26/13 "Women in jazz." What a sadly overused phrase.
The fact that three African American women from multiple generations playing jazz for a full house is considered a novelty is incredibly unfortunate. Three African American menfrom multiple generations playing jazz for a full house is simply referred to as tradition. But the best-rounded artists from any discipline access all gender roles. A great jazz musician can't have physicality and no sensitivity. A great jazz musician has to be able to play a ballad as well as a burner. When jazz is at its best, gender cannot be detected.
Pianist Geri Allen, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington all draw from a deep well of technique and emotional dexterity. Although it took a little while, last Saturday, before a sold out crowd at the Samueli Theater, that trio showed a wide emotional range and the ability to demolish any jazz band working today regardless of gender, race, height or hairstyle.
At the start, Spalding's bass was muddy and her bandmates spent a lot of the first tune gesturing at the fourth member of the band: the soundman. A strange sight considering they had already played two sets the day before through the same soundboard. Allen was spacious in melody and solo, but never quite tied any phrases or exhibited much enthusiasm during the first few tunes. Carrington pushed occasionally but rarely did all three members ever appear to break a sweat.
It was Spalding's arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Virgo" halfway through the set that seemed to wake the band from their slumber. Following a sparse bass solo, Spalding transformed the sound of her instrument into an oversized thumb piano, eliciting a simplistic groove from her repeating phrases. Gradually, Allen took over the phrases, mimicking Spalding's tone and texture. Carrington drove the trio with little more than her hi-hat.
A rendition of Shorter's "Nefertiti" was an equally dazzling performance. Shorter's angular melody bounced around the band. Carrington audibly laughed mid-tune before unleashing percussive ferocity. The band built upon her intensity, inspiring a lot of head bobbing from the audience. Allen sprung to life during her solo, strafing the keyboard with her right hand. As she worked through her performance, she quickly rose from the bench to strike a note, showing a much-welcomed passion.
The trio departed from the Wayne Shorter bag to play Allen's original, "Unconditional Love." A hoot emitted from the crowd, more likely for the concept than the particular tune but by the end, everyone was hooting. Spalding, at least twenty years younger than her bandmates, began the tune singing. It was the first time she had addressed the microphone and what arose was a soulful sweetness that filtered through Mozart's Queen of the Night and into the world of R&B. It was spiritual and pure. She sang slowly, quietly adding the syncopated support of her bass. Allen prodded her with sparse piano while Carrington offered a clacking drive.
Following Allen's bright display, Spalding returned to scat over her own support lines. Even the silly psychedelic projection that had been behind the band was turned off. Spalding mesmerized the crowd with a sound that was genuine and vibrant. A full set of that entrancing sound would have been welcome and when the band finished the tune the audience let her know. She was greeted with a standing ovation.
The trio closed with another Shorter tune, "Infant Eyes." Carrington opened the tune with pummeling mallets that were spacious yet red hot. Following the melody, Allen coated her solo lines in an earnest blues. She embraced the tune and built it up with exuberance. The band restated the theme amid Carrington's cannon fire, placing the unhurried melody in a flurry of excitement.
By that point, the band had gone long. An eager crowd demanded an encore and were met with the house lights. The trio was just warming up for the second set.
Personal Bias: I'd like that psychedelic projection thing if it actually moved.
The Crowd: Women! At a jazz show! Plus the usual dudes and subscribers.