Reviewed on this page:
Maroons - 21 -
The Gathering - The Life Of A Song
Geri Allen is perhaps the most celebrated jazz pianist of her
generation, with a fleet, unforced technique, and the ability to move
from tender to hard as nails as the mood requires. Her compositions
can be disarmingly simple, but without sounding routine or
familiar. Emerging as part of the 1980s Brooklyn jazz scene, she worked
with Steve Coleman and
Cassandra Wilson, and though Allen now
plays more traditionally than the rest of the M-Base crew, she's kept a
freewheeling improvisatory approach and an openness to R&B and rock
approaches. Somewhere between the New Traditionalists and the
post-fusion funkateers, Allen continues to chart her own course, and
we're privileged to be along for the ride.
There's a fine Geri
Allen fan page. (DBW)
With Anthony Cox on bass and Andrew Cyrille on percussion. (DBW)
Home Grown (1985)
A solo piano record. (DBW)
In The Middle (1987)
Features Marcus Belgrave and Rayse Biggs (flugelhorn, trumpet),
Mino Cinelu (percussion), Steve Coleman
(alto sax), Robin Eubanks (trombone), David McMurray (soprano
sax, flugelhorn), Shahita Nurallah (vocals), Jaribu Shahid (bass),
Lloyd Storey (tap dancer and sound effects), and Tani Tabbal (drums).
With Tabbal and Shahid, plus Sadiq Bey and Eli Fountain on percussion,
and C.T. Bell on vocals. Allen wrote all the tunes and played some
synth, which is very unusual for her. (DBW)
In The Year Of The Dragon (Geri Allen/Charlie Haden/Paul Motion: 1989)
One of two co-led albums cut this year by Allen, Haden (bass) and Motion
(drums). This features the first appearance of her wonderful "No More Mr.
Nice Guy." (DBW)
Segments (Geri Allen/Charlie Haden/Paul Motion: 1989)
The Nurturer (1991)
With Belgrave, Fountain, Kenny Garrett (alto sax), R. Hurst (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums). Atypically, only
three of the tunes here are Allen's. (DBW)
Live At Village Vanguard (Geri Allen/Charlie Haden/Paul Motion: 1991)
Allen plus two bassists (Cox and Dwayne Dolphin, who both
appear on "Two Brothers"), two drummers (Tabbal and Pheeroan
AkLaff, who both appear on the first of the three versions
of the upbeat "Feed The Fire") and two trumpeters (Belgrave and
Wallace Roney, who both appear on "Dolphy's
Dance"). All four rhythm players turn up on "Feed The Fire II," and
there are two duets for piano and trumpet ("Number Four" with Belgrave,
and the lovely "For John Malachi" with Roney). The lineup tricks aren't
unsuccessful, but taken as a whole they're a bit gimmicky, and distract
from Allen's playing and the compositions - two of the best tracks are
trios with one bassist and one drummer, "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and
"Bed-Stuy," and the gorgeous title track uses a quartet with Roney,
Dolphin and Tabbal. "Number Four" is by Lawrence Williams, and "Two
Brothers" is by Cox and Dolphin; everything else was written by Allen,
who also produced, and she strongly demonstrates her flair as a
composer ("A Prayer For Peace"). (DBW)
Twenty One (Geri Allen Trio: 1994)
Allen's stylistic and emotional range are on display here: capturing the
essence of Monk on her medley of "Introspection"
and "Thelonious" while remaining true to herself, then sounding lush and
romantic on the Styne-Cahn standard "A Beautiful Friendship," then
playing with a straight-ahead enthusiasm recalling early rock and roll
on her own "In The Middle." Half the tracks are Allen compositions,
and they're varied and intriguing, including the calm "In The
Morning (For Sister Leola)" and the ferocious "Drummer's Song."
There's also yet another take on "Feed The Fire." The
rhythm section is Ron
Carter and Tony Williams, who are
distinctive as usual, though they keep to a supportive role and don't
solo. Produced by Teo Macero and Herb Jordan.
Some of Allen's music appeared in the dreadful, jazz-steeped 1996 film
Kansas City and the resulting soundtrack album, and I think she
turned up on screen too.
Eyes... In The Back Of Your Head (1997)
With Ornette Coleman, Roney, and Cyro Baptista (percussion).
Besides piano, Allen plays some synth after a long break. (DBW)
Some Aspects Of Water (1997)
Recorded live in Denmark, with six brass players - Johny Coles (flugelhorn),
Henrik Bolberg Pedersen (trumpet and flugerhorn), Kjeild Ipsen and Alex
Windfeld (tuba), Michael Hove and Uffe Markussen (reeds and saxes) -
added to a trio featuring Lenny White (drums) and Palle Danielsson (bass).
Among other tunes, they haul out "Feed The Fire" one more time. (DBW)
The Gathering (1998)
Ordinarily I'd laugh at anyone who called a record "a tour de force of moods
and textures," but since it's me, I'll make an exception. Inspired by a
family reunion, and she underscores the point by having children warble
(Little Laila) and fool around on trumpet (Little Wally) on the closing
"Angels." Also, three tunes are dedicated to Roney (now Allen's
husband), who appears on several tracks. But it's far from
self-indulgent: the compositions are melodic and affecting ("Baby's
Breath," "Ray" - a gentle piece featuring Vernon
Reid on acoustic guitar), except for the ones which are driving and
exhilarating (title track, "Dark Prince" - with Reid on electric). I
believe all the tunes are Allen's, though the disc doesn't exactly say
so. Tip-top musicianship from Buster
Williams, White, Robin Eubanks (trombone), Minu Cinelu (percussion)
and Dwight Andrews (flutes, clarinet), but it's Allen's show, and she
includes several trio numbers to prove it. Produced by Macero;
co-produced by Allen and Jordan. (DBW)
The Life Of A Song (2004)
A trio with Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.
As usual, Allen's often driving on piano (the churchy "In Appreciation: A Celebration Song"), but she's equally deft on the quieter tunes (the mini-suite "Mounts And Mountains"; a run through Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life").
Holland and DeJohnette are strong but sparing ("The Experimental Movement"), and a horn section, including Belgrave, appears on a cover of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" - it's a great tune to revive, though they don't really do anything special with it. So the record's pedigree and taste is impeccable, and it's a pleasure to listen to, but compared to Allen's other work it leaves me cold: many of the compositions aren't memorable ("Unconditional Love"), some of the material isn't as new as it appears - "LWB's House (The Remix)" is actually a remake of "Laila's House" from Maroons - and her playing sometimes lacks individuality ("Black Bottom"). Check it out, by all means, but try one of Allen's other albums first.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.