Geri Allen's 'Timeless Portraits and Dreams'

Related NPR Stories

Detroit-born jazz pianist and singer Geri Allen says she owes as much to Motown as she does to jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Bill Evans for the inspirations for her sound. Her latest album is Timeless Portraits and Dreams — musician and Day to Day contributor David Was has a review.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID WAS reporting:

The fact that jazz pianist Geri Allen hails from my hometown of Detroit is reason enough to like her music, but chauvinism tells but half the tale.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

It's musician and DAY TO DAY contributor David Was with a jazz review.

WAS: She is also a noble successor to the legendary players who inspired her, names like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans. That she achieved such heights in the male-dominated fraternity of jazz is testimony to her talent and resolve.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Her new CD on the Telarc label, Timeless Portraits and Dreams, just came out, and it's a stunner.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Born in 1957 and educated at a legendary arts high school called Cass Tech, Allen is among the music's best-educated players and is still on the faculty of the University of Michigan, teaching jazz piano and improvisation studies. But there's no hint of the cloistered academic life in her music, which is informed by the same spirit of joy, solemnity and spiritual yearning that guided men like John Coltrane and Duke Ellington.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Not only does she surround herself with great players like bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Cobb on this album; she has also been a first-call side woman for a dizzying array of fellow artists, from saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Ornette Coleman, to singers Betty Carter and Mary Wilson of the Supremes. She still speaks fondly of Motown Records as an early inspiration, and one can hear such lyricism in both her playing and writing.

A respected composer in her own right, she's a keeper of the keys to the jazz tradition and to the cultural and spiritual life of the black community that nurtured its hothouse growth. Her liner notes might make the cynical wince a bit; that is, if her music didn't equal her high-minded words in both intention and effect.

Jazz embodies all that is the best in us, she writes, and because it is a clear reflection of who we are, it can also reflect the wide range of human strength and frailties.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: You can feel that strength in her spirited and hard-swinging version of Charlie Parker's Ah-Leu-Cha, and her equally pensive and tremulous side in a heartbreaking solo version of Nino Rota's theme from Fellini's La Strada.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: And if that isn't breadth enough for you, she brings in George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing at the Met, to give an impassioned reading of Lift Every Voice and Sing.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: This is a showcase for the black musical tradition that she honors so faithfully: swing versus bling.

BRAND: The recording by Geri Allen is called Timeless Portraits and Dreams: our reviewer, David Was.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Purchase Featured Music

Timeless Portraits and Dreams

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Album
Timeless Portraits and Dreams
Artist
Geri Allen
Label
Telarc
Released
2006

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.