Remember the time when jazz and dance were simpatico partners? Where swing and tap were intertwined with lively music and sweltering choreography in joints, halls, and clubs. Probably not, but pianist Geri Allen does, as she reflects on those past golden moments and dares to create new ones with Geri Allen & Timeline Live
Allen's Timeline consists of an extremely versatile group that includes veteran bassist Kenny Davis
(who has performed with Cassandra Wilson
, Don Byron
), the exciting young drummer Kassa Overall, and the icing on this unique quartet, tap dance phenomenon Maurice Chestnut, who brings magical footwork and musicianship in the vein of the late Gregory Hines and contemporaries Savion Glover.
Recorded in 2009 at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio
and Reed College in Portland, Oregon, this is Allen's first "live" recording in her 25-year career, and is an equally stunning companion to her solo project Flying Toward the Sound
(Motema 2010). Whether playing alone or with an ensemble, both releases are distinct glimpses into the pianist's creative potential.
Audibly, the onset of "Philly Joe" demonstrates that this is a bird of a slightly different, commencing with a spirited drum/tap dance sparring duel. Chestnut's metal-plated shoes improvise lightning quick patterns that rival Overall's multicolored traps. From Allen and Davis' grooved vamp to the Harlemesque show-stopping trade between the dual percussionists, the track signals that the eventas approved by the audience's enthusiastic applausewas worth the price of admission.
Allen's repertoire is as fierce as her playing. At one moment the quartet swaggers true with McCoy Tyner
's "Four By Five," while on another, her seventeen-minute "The Western Wall / Soul Eyes," the musicians move with impressionist colors in an eclectic and almost unrecognizable alteration of pianist Mal Waldron
's standard until its classic melody develops. Twist and turns are found, be they the cyclonic patter of shoes and keys on "LWB's House" or the blissful merge of George Gershwin
and Billie Holiday
in "Embraceable You / Loverman." The musicians' instruments, augmented by Chestnut's dancing, evoke images that are imaginative and compelling.
The set's timeline references the continuum of African-American music and culture in Charlie Parker
's "Ah Leu Cha" and the tributary "In Appreciation," dedicated to the memory of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks. Both are kinetic. The former swings true to the memory of Bird, as Overall and Chestnut glow like twin supernovae. The latter is an up-tempo soul-blues track that clearly left the audience wanting more.
It is hopeful that Geri Allen and Timeline (and others) will continue to explore the many possibilities that these two kindred art forms can share. Seeing isn't necessary for believing, but the addition of two video performances included on the enhanced CD, warrants further appreciation.