Jazz CD Reviews

Geri Allen and Timeline – Live – Live Motema

Geri Allen incorporates tap dancing into her repertoire in a surprisingly stimulating fashion.

Published on June 22, 2010

Geri Allen and Timeline – Live – Live Motema

Geri Allen and Timeline – Live – Live Motema MTM-42, 70:35 (with enhanced video content) ****:

(Geri Allen – piano; Kenny Davis – bass; Kassa Overall – drums; Maurice Chestnut – tap dance percussion)

Hot on the heels of her solo piano excursion, Flying Toward the Sound, Geri Allen follows up with her first live release, the quartet package Geri Allen and Timeline – Live which combines recordings made at Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory and Oregon’s Reed College. The concert document displays all sides of Allen’s musical personality: her influences, historical antecedents that have shaped African-American art and her sonic preferences that include improvisation and diversity.

Jazz has an open design that encompasses not just music but myriad expressive forms: painting, film, the written word and dance. It is that last configuration Allen brings to her latest project: tap percussionist Maurice Chestnut is an equal partner to Allen, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Kassa Overall. While some may think of novelty, it is not. Although relatively rare, dance in jazz does have precedence: Duke Ellington organized dancers into his repertoire and Wynton Marsalis, as one example, has authored jazz arrangements to accompany dance performances.

Is the application of a tap dancer as an integral part of a group novel? Only in the way that the band employs a distinct rhythmic instrument – in this case, tap shoes and muscled legs. The result is two percussionists: one just happens to use his feet to create the beat.

The integration of tap with bass, drums and keyboards is notable on album opener “Philly Joe,” Allen’s tribute to acclaimed rhythm player Philly Joe Jones. The tune starts with a lively tap dance/drum duel. Chestnut utilizes his metal-plated shoes to create inventive, quickened patterns that bounce off of Overall’s dappled drum kit wizardry. Allen promptly reveals how fundamental Chestnut’s contributions are to the collective rhythmic pulse and also to the harmonic and melodic scheme. While the 16-minute piece presents all the musicians artistry, Chestnut’s solo parts are equal to any improvised break. His cadenced shading and percussive ability is demonstrated even more strongly on an enhanced video of “Philly Joe,” one of two computer-playable videos filmed at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival. Hearing this band’s solidarity is one thing but watching it in action on the CD’s enhanced section is stunning. Chestnut’s smile and sweat are testament to his accomplishments. The second video file is a bonus track of Charlie Parker’s “Another Hair Do,” not available on the audio portion. [The ‘Enhanced CD’ idea seems to be having a re-birth lately, and is a welcome addition to audio CDs, but it’s a shame the videos are not playable on a standard CD or DVD player as well…Ed.]

The rest of the 70-minute set is proportionately phenomenal. A different Parker composition, “Ah Leu Cha,” is an excellent instance of bop and dance meeting head on. The cut commences with Overall’s martial drum demeanor teamed with Chestnut’s accelerated taps. Then Parker’s classic is given a modernistic renovation with digressively rapid lines, crackling percussive segments and lightning swift piano accents. The extended, 17-minute medley of Allen’s “The Western Wall” with Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” oscillates between imprinted impressionism and distilled improvisation, and is stippled by trundled tom and cymbal fills, McCoy Tyner-esque piano alterations and groove-battened bass. The ensemble shifts Waldron’s standard until it is nearly unrecognizable and yet somehow never loses his memorable melody.

If you are a Geri Allen fan this is a keeper: the live sound is superb, the performances second to none.

1. Philly Joe
2. Four by Five
3. The Western Wall/Soul Eyes
4. LWB’s House
5. Embraceable You/Loverman
6. Ah Leu Cha
7. In Appreciation

— Doug Simpson

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