We saw Geri Allen perform more than a dozen times, particularly during her tenure teaching at New England Conservatory.
She was a jazz mind-melder of unsurpassed quality: the ensemble, whatever and however, fused into a single entity that made music without a moment of tedium. And you sensed the piano was leading the way, every time. Teacher. Inspiration. Master.
Here’s the albums I was able to pull together to remember her, and some comments.
Open on All Sides In the Middle (Minor Music, 1987) (Never bothered me that this was quite song-oriented. Thought it was a strength. Brilliance is that the free-form passages fit in sensually.)
Geri Allen/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian, In the Year of the Dragon (JMT, 1989) (My pick from the earlier years as an introduction. You wanna hear that mind-melding, here it is.)
Twylight (Verve, 1989). (Fun, pretty, smart, songs again.)
Maroons (Blue Note, 1992) (Very thoughtful record that underscores relation to Eric Dolphy, always a huge plus for me when it’s this successful.)
The Nurturer, (Blue Note, 1991) (Emphasis on variety, with a climatic reading of Kenny Garrett’s “Lullaby of Isfahn,” which is preceded by my favorite Allen original novelty (?) “Le Goo Wop.”)
Twenty One (Blue Note, 1994) (With Ron Carter and Tony Williams — makes originals and covers fit with these guys like, uh, giant stars they’ve played with.)
The Gathering (Blue Note, 1998) (A prime example of her next-to-ultimate-style, a flow of form and reflections, from “Dark Prince” to “Daybreak and Dreams”.)
Allen/Haden/Motian, Segments (DIW, 1989) (I know, way out of chronological order, but not in my ears.)
Some Aspects of Water,(Storyville, 1997) (Live in Europe with minimal information, but it does include Trio and Nonet and as always she pulls everybody together.)
The Life of a Song (Telarc, 2004) (Her most wonderful outing with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette.)
Geri Allen & Timeline Live (Motema, 2013) (The start of her final phase — she’s broken into the open field where all songs and style can be done.)
Flying Toward the Sound (Motema, 2012) (Solo versions of the same magic circle of Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.)
Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations ( Motema, 2013) (This is the one I had to wait to hear before doing this and it is an absolute stone beauty. ) The exploration and celebrations of numbers like “Tears of a Clown” and “Stoned Love” blend affection and insight like you can’t believe. Allen throws in originals that match perfectly, winds up with Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and “Save the Children” (the latter can make you cry) and the perfect wink-and-nod finale, a sassy reading of “Nancy Joe” by LA big band master Gerald Wilson.
The most heartbreaking conclusion you cannot avoid is that Geri Allen went out at the peak of her powers.