Jazz CD Reviews

Geri Allen, solo piano – Flying Toward the Sound – Motema

Geri Allen offers an imagistic sound suite that is personal, spiritual and familial.

Published on May 7, 2010

Geri Allen, solo piano – Flying Toward the Sound – Motema

Geri Allen, solo piano – Flying Toward the Sound – Motema MTM-37, 60:10 (with enhanced video content) ****:

Cinema is the process of recording events, people and/or objects through the creative prism of a lens. Gifted filmmakers refract, restructure or recolor what the camera sees with the result that original, unusual media is constructed or presented. On Flying Toward the Sound, Geri Allen’s new solo piano venture, the keyboardist sonically echoes what avant-garde film artists have done by forging a fresh direction with what is at hand. In this case, Allen has composed an hour-long suite that celebrates African-American culture and history, imputes flight as a meaningful metaphor and draws inspiration from three peers: Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor.

Given the reflective influences and ideas, it is no surprise that Flying Toward the Sound is probably Allen’s most thoughtful, introspective and personally spiritual outing. That does not mean the nine numbers are limited in scope, depth or vitality. There are grand gestures, a rhythmic complexity and a sweep of emotions that imbue Allen’s material.

The opening title track – the thesis basis for eight distinctive themes Allen calls refractions –exemplifies of Allen’s aims. It is a homage to Tyner and emulates his tender side and resonates with Tyner’s explorative nature: it is suffused with purpose, a refined statement and settled tension. Allen later reprises and rephrases the track as a way to eloquently conclude her refractions conception.

Allen shows her affection for Cecil Taylor’s early accomplishments during “Dancing Mystic Poets at Midnight.” She integrates determined freedom with a percussive, polyrhythmic pulse that embodies a dancer’s grace, from a sprightly introduction to intensified movement, similar to the dramatic solo ballet in the famous ballet movie, The Red Shoes. Allen refashions and rethinks this theme twice more on the discordant “Dancing Mystic Poets at Twylight” and evocative “Dancing Mystic Poets at Dawn,” which increases in tempo and activity like someone waking up and getting ready for a busy day.

“Red Velvet in Winter,” stimulated by Hancock’s achievements, has a vivid dynamism with an underlying firmness: Allen utilizes the piano’s complete range but retains a left-hand foundation, which provides a steady superimposition to Allen’s solo.

The suite’s centerpiece is the 16-minute saga, “God’s Ancient Sky,” which combines earthiness with divine designs, a sense of stability (heightened by a repeating left-hand motif) with a varied and spacious improvisation that evokes religious matters. Allen closes her album with an intimate familial ballad, “Your Pure Self (Mother to Son),” a present to her son Wallace. The perception of hope for a bright and fulfilling future is palpable.

Cinematic connections are furthered by the inclusion of three excerpts from an art film created exclusively as a visual backdrop for Allen’s concerts. The beautifully rendered black and white selections – added as enhanced CD video content for computers – employ dance, Christian symbols, winter imagery and spoken-word narrative to accent Allen’s music.

A job well done for everyone involved in the recording procedure. The production, engineering and mastering is magnificent and captures Allen’s full essence and personality as well as the impressive fidelity of the two Fazioli pianos used during the studio engagement.


1. Flying Toward the Sound
2. Red Velvet in Winter
3. Dancing Mystic Poets at Midnight
4. God’s Ancient Sky
5. Dancing Mystic Poets at Twylight
6. Faith Carriers of Life
7. Dancing Mystic Poets at Dawn
8. Flying Toward the Sound (reprise)
9. Your Pure Self (Mother to Son)

— Doug Simpson

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