Reprising the Standards

The use of the word "standard" to describe the lexicon of songs written in the first half of the century by writers such as Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart and others has a dual purpose. It reflects, first of all, that this material has become a part of the standard repertoire. Less obviously, it defines a collection of music that has become the standard against which to measure the work of different performers.

No one in recent years has embraced standards more thoroughly or effectively than Jarrett. And this latest collection, recorded before a long bout with chronic fatigue syndrome drove him into a still-continuing hiatus from performing, continues to maintain an extraordinarily high level of artistry. The 12th recording of standards from his collaboration with Peacock and DeJohnette, it is unusually far-ranging.

The standard tunes are well-chosen, including the familiar "It Could Happen to You," "I'll Remember April," "Autumn Leaves" and "My Funny Valentine," as well as the lovely but somewhat lesser-known "Never Let Me Go" and "Last Night When We Were Young." The program also reaches in other directions, encompassing items as disparate as Charlie Parker's bop line "Billie's Bounce," the '50s pop hit "Mona Lisa" and a pair of Jarrett originals.

The playing is for the most part stunning--compelling in Jarrett's capacity, especially in slower numbers, to articulate long, keening lines that invest the melodies with a passionate lyricism. And his work on the faster tunes follows his familiar pattern of moving with fleet, expressive improvisational curiosity without losing touch with the tunes' essential realities.

Anderson and Haden offer a differing standard perspective. Herbie Hancock has often spoken of the influence the little-known Anderson, now 72, had on his playing. A much-favored New York-area teacher for decades, he has recorded rarely, never for a major label. Listening to the shimmering quality of his playing in this ballad-dominated set, with its unusual harmonic voicings and crystal-clear melodic articulation, it's hard to understand how such an intriguing player has remained so obscure for so long.

Anderson's rhythmic approach has an unfocused, rhapsodic style that is not especially fashionable in an era of in-the-pocket swing. But Haden's dependable bass, recorded here with a rich, woody sound, keeps the time solid. And the real fascination, in any case, is Anderson's ability to bring compositional structure to his improvisations and, above all, to reveal the linkages in the line of harmonic interpretations that stretches from Art Tatum to Hancock, Jarrett, Bill Evans and others.

Allen, a pianist who has established her skills with standards, makes her debut on Verve with a set of original compositions centered on the concept of the connective links between family, friends and ancestry. Performed by a variety of ensemble instrumentations, from piano-guitar-percussion trio to six-piece, three-horn sextets, the music roves across the frontier between the lyricism that has always been inherent to Allen's playing and the edgy, avant-garde elements she has found equally fascinating.

Some of the more intriguing music is provided by ensembles that include her husband, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and Allen's work with bassist Buster Williams and Lenny White ("Light Matter" and "Soul Heir") overflows with the kind of creative interplay that makes one wish for a complete album (standards would be intriguing) from this gifted combination of players.

Allen opens a six-night run at the Jazz Bakery on Tuesday with bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Ralph Penland.


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