Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"This ethereal CD has its own distinct sound, sensibility and poetic voice. Producing such a complex project isn't easy. Fortunately for us, Geri was awarded the 2008 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Music Composition which permitted her to take the time needed to conceptualize, compose and record this project. The suite, "Refractions: Flying Toward The Sound," comprises eight of its nine tracks. Her style is sometimes light, sometimes, ornate, sometimes percussive but always flowing and atmospheric. Definitely suitable for repeated listenings." -JazzReview.com
"One of modern jazz's foremost pianists, Geri Allen exhibits a musical profundity that is coupled by lyricism and soul. Whether leading a trio of esteemed peers - Charlie Haden and Paul Motian - at that landmark venue, Live at the Village Vanguard (DIW, 2000), or giving homage to the obscure jazz matriarch, pianist Mary Lou Williams, with Zodiac Suite: Revisited (Mary Music, 2006), Allen is a composer/musician constantly gravitating towards new endeavors.
Such is the case with Flying Toward the Sound (a solo piano suite in eight Refractions ), a work that gained momentum after Allen received a 2008 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Music Composition. Inspired by three great pianists - Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner - the project offers reverence to the spirit of their music, yet eschews mimicry. It sets its own course in a journey that is enigmatic yet personal, complex yet moving, and always evolving with Allen's own vision as she so eloquently states: "It's not like playing transcriptions; it's more about refracting the admiration and love I have for them through my own muse."
The suite is replete with Allen's cerebral compositional and improvisational vigor. Each refraction is prismatic - moments of balladry, grandeur, and abstractionism are contained in the stunning opening title, dedicated to Tyner. Rapid notes forge cascading movements, sheets of sound, and fluid runs in "Red Velvet In Winter (for Hancock)" and flamboyant blues/swing improvisation in "Dancing Mystic Poets in Twylight (for Taylor)."
Motion and spirituality are prevalent in "God's Ancient Sky," the sixteen-minute centerpiece where the pianist's keys travel over assorted soundscapes. Personal reflections are found in "Faith Carriers of Life," dedicated to mothers, and "Your Pure Self (Mother To Son)," for her son Wally - each intimating the pianist's inventiveness and sensitivity suffused in her swinging groove essence.
An added gift is found on the enhanced CD, with three short video excerpts from the film Refractions , by filmmaker Carrie Mae Weems, who collaborated on the project. Jazz has been quoted as being "music that walks a tightrope without a net." Allen's Flying Toward the Sound effectively fits that description - daring, vulnerable, and breathtaking." -AllAboutJazz
JazzTimes (p.50) - "[P]rofoundly stirring, perhaps nowhere more than on 'Red Velvet in Winter'..."
Personnel: Geri Allen (piano).
Liner Note Author: Farah Jasmine Griffin.
Recording information: Klavierhaus, New York, NY (12/18/2008-12/20/2008).
Editor: Yasanuri Rowan.
Photographer: 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. [There is a video program at the end of the disc featuring three of the suite's titles in performance.] ~ Thom Jurek
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