Geri Allen's Flying Toward the Sound
Lots of “free” pianists have copied Hancock’s Ravelian tone-clusters, pounded out Tyner’s block chords, or mad-dashed about the keyboard like Taylor. But few (any?) have captured the balletic limber—the acrobatic joy—of this music, much less transmuted it into his or her own voice and rhythms.
Allen does this here. And her voice is at once adventurous and accessible.
I’ve been listening to Geri Allen since the mid-1980s, soon after she helped found the M-Base Collective, a group of Brooklyn-based musicians seeking to fuse jazz with urban rock and funk in new ways.
It didn’t take her long to move out from those roots. I first saw her live, playing a Mary Lou Williams solo-tribute concert at the Smithsonian. Soon after, she was co-leading record dates with the likes of Charlie Haden and Paul Motian (Etudes, Live at the Village Vanguard, Segments, and one of Haden’s Montreal Tapes sessions), Ron Carter and Tony Williams (Twenty One), and Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette (The Life of a Song, the best jazz album Telarc ever released). Ornette Coleman almost never plays with pianists, but on one of the few occasions when he did, he chose Allen to play along. (The resulting album, Sound Museum: Three Women, ranks among his half-dozen best.)
The point is, you can tell a lot about jazz musicians by who chooses to keep their company, and Allen, who’s now 53, has long attracted a fair number from the top echelon.
But soloing is something else, and she takes the art well beyond what many might expect of her. The sound quality is also superb: liquid and percussive. Get this, listen closely, and hang on tight.