Flying Toward The Sound, (in stores and online March 30) is a monumental addition to the solo piano canon. Conceptually ambitious, virtuosic in its execution and spiritual in its essence, this deeply moving recording reveals Allen in visionary communion with two fine Fazioli pianofortes. As distinguished jazz scholar and author, Farah Jasmine Griffith explains in her liner notes: "Geri Allen conceived of this project in relation to three modern jazz pianists in whom she finds inspiration: Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. Allen does not play their music; instead she plays toward it, around it, through it to her own unique voicing... resulting in a flight of light and sound." Ms. Allen comments that, "These three pianists are foundational in terms of the modern piano. They informed my choices in abstract ways for this suite. It's not like playing transcriptions; it's more about refracting the admiration and love I have for them through my own muse, and letting the music reflect the ways they've influenced me through the years."
Allen has had numerous prestigious awards and honors, the most recent being a 2008 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Music Composition, which allowed her to take the time needed to fully develop and record this ambitious, solo piano excursion. The suite, "Refractions: Flying Toward The Sound,"comprises eight of the nine tracks on this release. A very personal compositional embrace of her son Wallace serves as the closing opus, aptly titled "Your Pure Self... Mother to Son."
The first three of the eight distinctive 'refractions' of the suite "Flying Toward The Sound" pay homage to Allen's three piano inspirations through a blend of scored and improvised abstracted passages. Refraction I: "Dancing Mystic Poets @ Twylight," opens with a suggestion of the swing feel that was crucial to Cecil Taylor's early development. This opening refraction, like her takes on Tyner ("Flying Toward the Sound") and Hancock ("Red Velvet in Winter"), is more cinema than snapshot, with a moving lens focusing on the varied ephemera of creativity and ultimately on Allen's own richly insightful originality.
Ms. Allen will support Flying Toward The Sound with solo performances at museums and concert halls in both in the US and abroad. Her concert length solo piano presentation shares the stage with beautiful film projections created by famed photographer, filmmaker and performance artist Carrie Mae Weems. Weems collaborated closely with Allen over the past year to create a very personal, poetic and surreal filmic statement centered on themes from Ms. Allen's life as an African American woman, musician, daughter, mother and educator. A taste of the film imagery from the live shows is included as enhanced content on the Flying Toward the Sound CD in the form of three short video segments of imagery set to three of Allen's compositions: "Flying Toward the Sound", "Red Velvet in Winter" and "Faith Carriers of Life."
The music of Flying Toward The Sound takes us deep into Allen's unique artistry. The detailed liner notes by Griffith further illuminate this journey as that of an artist who "comes from a culture that celebrates flight as a metaphor for freedom." The evocative imagery of the CD package (consisting of stills from the companion art films by Weems) provide visual counterpoint to the metaphors of flight built into the music, which unfolds from track to track as a seamless overlay of composition and interpretive improvisation, often flexible in tempo but always maintaining Allen's keen feel for rhythm, whether suggested or articulated.
"As a musician coming from the Detroit bebop and Motown traditions, the groove, or the swing is always one of the most important aspects," Allen stresses. "That's one of the challenges in playing alone. When you collaborate with great players, and I've been fortunate to work with truly great musicians throughout my career, that foundation, that support is there. When you are in the solo piano realm, and have only yourself to reference, you have complete elasticity to allow the air to move, but you also don't want to lose the feel of the rhythm. From piece to piece on Flying Toward The Sound, I'm always trying to find the symmetry between the perception of time and space.
Geri Allen & Timeline - Live, is the first "live" recording of Allen's twenty year career, and was recorded at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, and Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. These two exciting live performances feature Allen's working quartet nimbly and ferociously interacting with each other reinventing the dialog between the dance and the drums. Timeline celebrates the dance and the music together as one.
"Maurice is completely integrated into the band," Allen observes. "And the drum and the dance are at the core of how this group is constructed. We heavily acknowledge the influences of bebop, and both Maurice and Kassa reference their hip hop influences. With master bassist Kenny Davis holding it all down we are all creatively free to embrace the entire spectrum of everything we love about this great music we call Jazz. In the end, we're marrying the dance, the drums, and our collective experiences on the wings of improvised music."
Born in Pontiac, Michigan, Allen is one of the first musicians of her generation to move gracefully to and from a diverse array of jazz universes, including those as wide ranging as that of free jazz innovator Ornette Coleman, jazz singer Betty Carter and the free jazz of M-Base Collective. 2009-10 also finds Allen engaged in the year-long Centennial Celebration of Mary Lou Williams. "I have always known I could embrace the entire spectrum of jazz and have my freedom" explains Allen.
Flying Toward The Sound (co-produced by Kunle Mwanga) and Geri Allen & Timeline - Live (co-produced by Allen's long-term manager, Ora Harris) are the latest in Allen's long list of accomplishments, both rare in magnitude and deep in artistry, and they handily reveal the far ends of the beautiful musical compass that is Geri Allen.
Ms. Allen is an Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at the University of Michigan. On March 8, the official premier concert for Flying Toward The Sound was presented by the University Of Michigan Museum Of Art, UMMA, and (the originating curatorial staff). The releases will be distributed in the US via Allegro and in Europe and in Israel through Membran.