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$35 General | $65 Gold Circle
At a time when record labels have largely abandoned jazz, Motéma has become a welcoming beacon, documenting brilliant improvisers who are avidly expanding the art form. This program, essentially a mini-festival, showcases some of the artists who have made critically acclaimed recordings for Motema. All of these illustrious artists are generously donating their services to ensure the festival’s future.
The triple bill features a solo recital by revered pianist Geri Allen, whose ravishing solo session “Flying Toward the Sound” was selected by numerous critics as one of 2010’s best releases, as was her astonishing quartet album “Geri Allen & Timeline Live.” Firmly connected to the advanced mainstream tradition–she cites Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans as some of her deepest influences–Allen is also comfortable mixing it up on the music’s frontiers, such as her fruitful collaboration with avant-garde patriarch Ornette Coleman.
One of jazz’s most acclaimed pianists over the past three decades, Allen has released a steady stream of brilliant recordings featuring her spiky original compositions, a creative streak so impressive that she won Denmark’s lucrative Jazzpar Prize, an honor usually bestowed on musicians twice her age.
New York-based pianist Marc Cary is a fearless musical explorer with a gift for leading adventurous ensembles. He first gained attention with Roy Hargrove, but made a name for himself as a bandleader with the percussion-driven electro-acoustic combo Indigenous People. Constantly in demand as an accompanist, Cary has collaborated with an impressive array of artists, from Meshell Ndegeocello and Erykah Badu to Betty Carter, Milt Jackson, Max Roach and a long run with Abbey Lincoln.
Cary has distinguished himself as the leader of a stylistically expansive Focus Trio with Bay Area bassist David Ewell, who anchors Cary’s Healdsburg ensemble. The ferociously inventive band has released a series of albums on Motema, most recently “Focus Trio-Live 2009,” a thrilling session that captures Cary’s intricate and irresistibly grooving compositions.
Powerhouse drummer Babatunde Lea, a creative catalyst on the Bay Area jazz scene for three decades as a bandleader, educator and accompanist, was inspired to honor the late vocal explorer Leon Thomas after hearing Dwight Trible sing with Pharoah Sanders. “It was like he was channeling the spirit of Leon Thomas,” says Lea, who toured with Thomas in the mid-70s. “His instrument is so powerful and spiritual.”
The result is Babatunde Lea presents “A Tribute to Leon Thomas,” with vocalist Dwight Trible, keyboard great Patrice Rushen and propulsive bassist Gary Brown. While pianist/keyboardist Rushen is far better known for her pop and R&B hits (Will Smith recycled her song “Love Me Nots” for his hit movie theme “Men In Black”), she is a world-class improviser who first made her mark on the early 1970s jazz scene. The group features mostly the same cast as “Umbo Weti,” the tremendously exciting album recorded live at Yoshi’s in 2008.
Leon Thomas began his singing career with the Count Basie band, but by the late 1960s he was singing with Pharoah Sanders, showcasing his distinctive free-ranging vocal style. He recorded several albums with Sanders and Archie Shepp, and toured and recorded with Santana in the mid 1970s. He died of a heart attack in 1999.