The shocking passing of Geri Allen at 60 is not just sad news for jazz fans around the world. It’s a reminder that African American art is part of a cultural and historical continuum. Geri Allen was a driving force for the dissemination of black art, a voice combining the radical edge of free-wheeling improvisation and a deep-seated acknowledgment of her elders and the tradition. Her piano style mixed the jaggedness of Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor and the sophisticated harmonic territory of Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. In fact, she acknowledged the influence of all four, especially on her much recommended solo album Flying Toward The Sound. But check out any of her album and her unmistakable touch stands out, a rock-solid groove that thundered from the left hand but never got in the way of a profound lyricism.
I was lucky enough to catch one duo gig of her with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel a few years ago in Paris. Her piano sounded like four hands running across the keyboard. The audience was appropriately euphoric, myself included.
It seems that the music sections of the specialized and mainstream press have published obituaries acknowledging Geri Allen’s huge contribution to the music world. In a still largely male-dominated jazz culture, I’m hoping that this sad news will shine the spotlight on the countless women improvisers that have come up in the last decades and rejuvenated the art form not because they are women but because they are great, period.
Selected discography :
Etudes (1988), with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian
In the year of the dragon (1989), with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian
Twenty One (1994), with Ron Carter and Tony Williams
The Life of a Song (2004), with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette
Flying Toward The Sound (2012)