One of the most accomplished jazz pianists of her generation, Geri Allen has long made music that combines the traditional and the avant-garde, the cerebral and the soulful, the restrained and the raucous. Her impressive resume includes '80s collaborations with Steve Coleman
and his M-Base crew, performances with free thinkers like Ornette Coleman
, Betty Carter
and Charles Lloyd
and well-regarded trio outings with rhythm masters like Charlie Haden
and Paul Motian
In recent years, Allen has made a number of recordings focused on some of her diverse influences, including gospel music (Timeless Portraits and Dreams
, Telarc, 2006), Jimi Hendrix (Three Pianos for Jimi
, Douglas, 2009) and Mary Lou Williams (Zodiac Suite: Revisited
, Mary Records, 2005). Her latest release, Flying Toward The Sound
, turns to three modern piano giants who have had a profound impact on her work: Cecil Taylor
, McCoy Tyner
and Herbie Hancock
. But instead of simply revisiting the music of her muses, Allen has composed a "solo piano excursion" inspired by them, combining recognizable elements of each with her own unique and eloquent voicings.
The eight-part suite that comprises most of the album opens with a title section dedicated to Tyner, replete with massive chord rumblings and sumptuous ballad playing. "Red Velvet in Winter," for Hancock, combines rapid-fire runs and funky rhythms in an orchestral soundscape. And "Dancing Mystic Poets at Midnight," for Taylor, takes blues and swing-based improvisations into the stratosphere. The album's centerpiece is the 16-minute "GOD's Ancient Sky," an epic journey that traverses a wide spectrum of musical and spiritual territory. The album closes with a beautiful ballad dedicated to Allen's son that's not part of the main suite. If that's not enough, the enhanced CD includes three excerpts from a film project about the album by the renowned artist and photographer Carrie Mae Weems.
If Flying Toward The Sound
looks to the heavens, another new release, Geri Allen and Timeline's Live, highlights the pianist's earthier side. A free-wheeling quartet date recorded at two artsy colleges, Oberlin and Reed, the album is a sort of hiphop-meets-post-bop encounter, notable for the inclusion of "tap percussionist" Maurice Chestnut in the group.
It's clear from the opening number, "Philly Joe," a tune fittingly inspired by the great drummer Philly Joe Jones, that having a dancer in the band is no gimmick. Chestnut is a fully integrated member of the ensemble, adding rich textures and accents and carrying on an electrifying percussive dialogue with drummer Kassa Overall. Both Chestnut and Overall bring hiphop flavor to jazz classics like McCoy Tyner's "Four by Five" and Charlie Parker's "Ah-Leu-Cha" while Allen and bassist Kenny Davis contribute ferocious post-bop playing throughout.
This would be a strong outing were it a standard trio, but the unique addition of the unlikely but very welcome fourth band member makes it an exceptional one.
Tracks and Personnel
Flying Toward the Sound
Tracks: Flying Toward The Sound; Red Velvet In Winter; Dancing Mystic Poets At Midnight; GOD's Ancient Sky; Dancing Mystic Poets At Twylight; Faith Carriers Of Life; Dancing Mystic Poets At Dawn; Flying Toward The Sound (Reprise); Your Pure Self (Mother To Son).
Personnel: Geri Allen: piano.
Tracks: Philly Joe; Four by Five; The Western Wall/Soul Eyes; LWB's House; Embraceable You/Lover Man; Ah Leu Cha; In Appreciation.
Personnel: Geri Allen: piano; Kenny Davis: bass; Kassa Overall: drums; Maurice Chestnut: tap percussion.