Geri Allen


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By the late '90s, Geri Allen's modern jazz piano style was easily recognizable to those who paid attention to the development of this music. Where far too many other peers chose to rehash standards ad infinitum, Allen explored her individuality in many ways that expanded her color palate and harmonic range. The Gathering features some trio recordings with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White, while adding guitarist Vernon Reid from Living Color here and there. But the most telling collaborator is producer Teo Macero, who not only is a master orchestrator in his own right, but inspired Allen to present music on this recording with a larger ensemble -- right up Macero's alley. As diverse a jazz project as one might hear, its equally as rich, deep, and wide, as the pianist sticks to acoustic piano, allowing these swelling sounds to swirl around her. The title track is truly a tour de force track, pounding into submission the road song rhythm via an insistent, driving, clockwork beat, while the underscored brass of trumpeter Wallace Roney and trombonist Robin Eubanks fly on wings of "angels" overhead. The group expands with flutist Dwight Andrews and bassist Ralphe Armstrong on "Gabriel's Royal Blue Reals," but the larger horn section pares down into two-note refrains, beautiful but not dainty. "Angels" has a similar instrumentation, but is even more withdrawn into a childlike stance, signing in softer clarion tones. The tracks with Reid have him on acoustic guitar for "Ray" with Allen and percussionist Mino Cinelu only in a suspended animation mood, or the electric during the static hard bopper "Dark Prince" or "Joy & Wonder" again with Armstrong in a similar forward motion to "The Gathering" but with a smaller combo. Allen, Williams, and White were a regular working trio at this time, and they are showcased for the levitating "Soul Heir" in a 7/8 and 4/4 tango, the abeyance of time "Light Matter," and the oceanic, rising sun motif of "Daybreak & Dreams." As complete and realized as many of Allen's recordings are, this one displays all of her immense powers coming to light at the same time. It's immaculately programmed, perfectly executed music that has a haunting quality overall, but enough punch, innovation, and style to rank it highly among her best projects, and comes highly recommended.

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