Geri AllenThe Gathering
Hailed as “an artist in command of her art” by Vogue magazine and “one of the most original and in-demand musicians of her generation” by JazzTimes magazine, Geri Allen is one of creative music’s most distinctive, prolific, and innovative voices. The celebrated pianist, composer, ethnomusicologist, educator and mother, will make her Verve Records debut with The Gathering, an epic musical journey that explores themes of family, motherhood, and spirituality, and proves to be the most ambitious and successful recording of Allen’s career.
The concept of The Gathering was inspired by the pianist’s 1994 family reunion. She explains, “I believe that the spirits can come back to guide and protect us. In my family, we make these meaningful pilgrimages to family reunions to celebrate being together, and to celebrate the memories of loved ones who have passed on to higher places.”
Including some of her finest compostions to date, The Gathering explores the terrain of Allen’s African ancestry, roots itself in the blues, bebop and hard bop vernacular, and walks the crest of free jazz. Celebrating the past, present, and the future, Allen dedicates three of the album’s songs to her husband Wallace Roney (“Dark Prince”, “Soul Heir”, and “Gabriel’s Royal Blue Reals”). “Daybreak and Dreams” and “Angels” are about the state one can reach when in tune with a higher power or otherworldly spirits and experiences. The vignette “Baby’s Breath”, “Sleepin’ Pretty”, and the Motown-sound inspired “Joy and Wonder”, were penned for Allen’s seven-year old Laila, her two-year old Wallace, and new born baby Barbara, named after Allen’s mother.
Of her new recording label, Allen states: “It is great when a label like Verve supports the artists’ right to express themselves freely throughout the entire creative process.” Musically unhindered, Allen features imaginative group configurations ranging from trio to sextet, and crafts compositions that are infused with colorful images, varied textures, vivid lines, and free-swinging danceable grooves. Allen further punctuates her music with her signature dissonant harmonies, innovative rhythmic configurations, and intense use of space.
Joining the Detroit pianist on The Gathering are some of Allen’s most kindred musical spirits, including long time rhythm-mates from Wallace Roney’s band, Buster Williams (bass) and Lenny White (drums). Also featured are fellow Detroit native Ralphe Armstrong (bass), Mino Cinelu (percussion), Living Colour alumnus Vernon Reid (guitar), musical soul mate Roney (trumpet), Robin Eubanks (trombone), and one of the pianist’s musical mentors, Dwight Andrews (reeds). Choosing to make The Gathering a real family affair, little Wallace lends mom a hand on trumpet, and Laila adds her angelic vocals to “Angels”.
Heralded as a “a questing goddess of the keyboard, and a player of undeniable vigor and drive,” by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Allen quickly became an influential player on the New York jazz scene in the early ’80s, working with the likes of Betty Carter, Arthur Blythe, Oliver Lake, Ralph Peterson, and Dewey Redman. A former member of the Black Rock Coalition, Allen went on to become a successful leader and highly acclaimed recording artist. Her earlier recordings include Printmakers, In the Year of the Dragon, and Twenty-One (featuring Ron Carter and the late Tony Williams).
In 1994, Allen recorded with hip-hop/funk bassist, Me’shell NdgeOcello, and the following year was crowned with a “Lady of Soul” award for Jazz Album of the Year at the first annual Soul Train Awards. In 1996, she graced the big screen, playing the role of pianist Mary Lou Williams in the Robert Altman film, Kansas City. She was also the first woman to receive Denmark’s prestigious JAZZPAR Prize, and participated in Ornette Coleman’s long anticipated Sound Museum. Coleman returned the favor last year when he appeared on Allen’s celebrated Eyes . . . In the Back of Your Head.
“I have gone through a lot of creative transitions during the last few years and this record really represents where I am now. I am at a place of peace,” concludes Allen. A mother, master musician, and full time visionary, The Gathering proves that Allen’s strength lies within the sum of all these parts.