The late pianist Geri Allen, who died in June 2017 at age 60, was one of the first graduates of Howard’s jazz program and a member of HUJE during the late ’70s; she later became a Howard faculty member as well. This project honors her adventurous and confident spirit. First the 2017 ensemble digs into six wide-ranging standards, mostly from the bebop canon. Then the CD goes into flashback mode by showcasing the 1989 band’s exploration of Ornette Coleman’s beautiful “Kathelin Grey,” before closing with a three-tune segment that captures Allen herself performing early compositions with the 1977, 1978, and 1979 editions of the band.
The 2017 ensemble puts a strong stamp on Monk’s “Bye-Ya” before strolling at mixed gaits through Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig of You,” Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem,” Horace Silver’s “Doodlin,’” and Johnny Griffin’s teasing “The JAMFs Are Coming.” Pianist Tristan Benton is a featured soloist on all six tunes. He and guitarist Theodros Alemu set the tone on “This I Dig of You,” while trombonist Jarvis Hooper is co-featured on the Griffin piece. The full ensemble adds splendid accents with solid section work.
The Allen segment shows what a musical force she was, even as an undergrad. She plays piano and sings with a soft, light sound over Arthur Dawkins’ soprano sax on HUJE 1977’s Latin-tinged take on “A Communion of My Soul.” Allen sticks to the keyboard on 1978’s “For Real Moments” and 1979’s “Give the Band a Hand,” a robust closer whose featured soloists include trumpeter Wallace Roney, a frequent musical partner to whom Allen was married from 1995 to 2008.Originally Published