Flying Towards The Sound (Motéma)

Geri Allen

Released March 9, 2010

Allmusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2010

Top 10 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll 2009




Geri Allen overshadows most pianists in her generation, not by miles, but by worlds. Her latest album, a solo performance, provides such sensitivity and gentile finesse it feels like her hands are gliding over you and through you; surrounds you with technique and style unknown since the high points of McCoy Tyner’s and Mary Lou Williams’s piano inventiveness and brilliance.

Allen is the artistic director of the Mary Lou Williams Collective and is an Associate Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation at the School Of Music Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan. Educated in both classical and jazz, respectively, Allen dares to dive into the deep end of many music forms; from performing with Mary Wilson and the Supremes to the complex forms of improvisational jazz with musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Tony Williams and Ron Carter.

It’s the introspective compositional style, brought about by the merging of a multitude of music genres, that makes “Flying Toward the Sound” a magnificent piece of art. Art in sound. Allen paints a picture of modern art in the style of modern jazz. Influenced by the legendary jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, Allen continuously seeks challenges in music, creates swinging sounds, dynamic and innovative sounds. That’s what “Flying Toward the Sound” is all about.

Ms. Allen coalesces the many musicians with whom she’s performed; their ideas, their voices, meshing them together with her now highly mature abilities. “Flying Toward the Sound” is what Geri Allen indeed does. Using her piano as a magic carpet, Geri Allen flies into the stratosphere of jazz, giving jazz another definitive moment from which future musicians can learn. What beautiful sounds float through the air, reaching out to the listener, to me, demanding that I cease whatever I’m doing and turn my attention to the works of this living jazz piano legend. Geri Allen’s climb to the peak of this enormous mountain of music and musicians has now arrived with this extraordinary album, “Flying Toward the Sound.” Mary Lou Williams is surely smiling from the heavens as she looks upon her successor as one of the greatest of greats in jazz piano and composition. Put your headset on, get comfortable, and prepare to go on a musical adventure with Geri Allen at the helm. Soar with “Flying Toward the Sound.”

Track Listing:

1. Flying Toward the Sound (Geri Allen) 06:03

2. Red Velvet in Winter (Geri Allen) 05:56

3. Dancing Mystic Poets at Midnight (Geri Allen) 04:24

4. God’s Ancient Sky (Geri Allen) 16:06

5. Dancing Mystic Poets at Twylight (Geri Allen) 03:23

6. Faith Carriers of Life (Geri Allen) 07:00

7. Dancing Mystic Poets at Dawn (Geri Allen) 05:44

8. Flying Toward the Sound (Reprise) (Geri Allen) 06:23

9. Your Pure Self (Mother to Son) (Geri Allen) 05:07


Geri Allen: piano

Recorded December 18 – 20, 2008, at Klavierhaus, New York, NY

Produced by Kunle Mwanga and Geri Allen

Photography by Carrie Mae Weems


Pianist and composer Geri Allen is an artist who has never been complacent or self-deceiving. She has always listened deeply, and in the process has pushed her own envelope of expression and creativity, looking toward a horizon as eternally on the move as she is. Flying Toward the Sound, subtitled “A Solo Piano Excursion Inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock,” features an eight-part suite called “Refractions: Flying Toward the Sound.” Allen doesn’t play the music of her muses. Rather, she invokes their very spirits in her own utterly unique compositional method. On the opening title track it’s Tyner, with his open-ended lyricism, extended chord voicings, and use of space. But Allen builds on his use of modes by adding her masterful large chord rumblings with the left hand in the deep registers of the piano while using the middle ones for a series of elegantly voiced melodic statements. On “Red Velvet in Winter,” for Hancock, she employs her inspiration’s method of composition as orchestration. Themes are inviting; she blends left-handed constructions, soulful lyric notions, and right-hand technique to evoke the timbral voices of many other instruments. But it is on “Dancing Mystic Poets at Midnight,” for Taylor, where the work really begins to sing. She reads through not only Taylor’s use of rhythm and harmonics but his declared debt to Duke Ellington as a cornerstone. Playing two-handed melodies in high and middle registers that create a pulsing palette, she begins to improvise by alternating melodies and creating a third that, while percussive, is fluid and evocative of the space and distance a dancer must travel in a leap. The 16-minute centerpiece of the album is “God’s Ancient Sky.” It denotes the spiritual nature of this recording. Allen arrives in new territory after her muses, in order to create a set of sonic wings with which to fly from them toward the unknown. Its use of density and space, elegance and force, and its conscious engagement with the elliptical, both harmonically and rhythmically, is literally breathtaking. It walks a labyrinthine path between jazz and classical music in the musical world, and between earth, sky, and underworld in the spiritual realm. “Dancing Midnight Poets at Twylight” (sic) employs Taylor’s interpretation of Ellingtonian swing dramatically. The pulse here dances between rhythm and harmony with her signature lyricism ever at the forefront. The work reprises its opening theme in summary, but with noted harmonic extensions from a new musical terrain. She closes with “Your Pure Self (Mother to Son),” a gorgeous personal ballad outside this suite. Flying Toward the Sound is a major work for solo piano: courageous, vulnerable, poetically articulated, and technically awe-inspiring in form and execution.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)