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A Scholar, An Entertainer, and A Class Act: Geri Allen in Concert

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief / @i_ADH

I am a sucker for piano trios, always have been. Anything on top of the piano/bass/drums combo is just icing on the cake to me. This past Sunday, February 19th at the McAllister Auditorium at San Antonio College, the Geri Allen quartet featuring Allen on piano, Kenny Davis on bass, Kassa Overall on drums, and Bruce Williams on saxophone served up some delicious, straight-up, straight-ahead cake.

The afternoon show displayed Allen to be a scholar and a pure entertainer, persistently working her tiny heels (seriously, it was one of the simple pleasures of the concert watching her bounce her heels all afternoon) while tinkling through Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Curtis Fuller, and Charlie Parker compositions. The concert did lend itself to a straight-ahead jazz bent that seemed idyllic for the Musical Bridges Around the World program, an organization dedicated to bring arts of all sorts to San Antonio. Bradley Kayser and Chuck Parrish of KRTU and the jazz panel of MBAW made a good choice in Allen's group, ensuring that the senior citizens largely in attendance were entertained by the organization's one major jazz concert of the year without being put off by the rambunctious nature of the whole affair.

The concert itself was very good. It would likely be considered the masterful standard fare one would expect in a jazz metropolis like New York City but more than sufficed for San Antonio, Texas. Allen's trio had a cooperative spirit that worked together seamlessly. Any good jazz band should be able to effortlessly do this but when one is touring through some place as off the beaten path as San Antonio, Texas, such skill is a necessity, almost to the point that it should be a foregone conclusion. In fact, this crowd's attention was truly Allen's to lose, and lose it she most certainly did not.

The trio of Allen, Overall, and Davis have been playing together for the last five years. Their mastery of such broad material makes all this apparent. Their integration of quartet newcomer Bruce Williams on saxophone seemed equally as effortless. In fact, this show was Williams’ first performance with the group. Nevertheless, Williams’ rookie status was not at all apparent, masterfully shining in a trumpet-less version of Herbie Hancock’s “I Have a Dream”, balladeering in “The Gypsy”, and quoting Charlie Parker numerous times. The rest of the group played quite strong. Bassist Kenny Davis is an absolute beast, hearkening the fundamentals of the walking bassline (seemingly a lost artform in the modern jazz era). Drummer Kassa Overall plays with a distinctive swagger. His versatility was more than obvious that afternoon but upon learning about his range in other endeavors (playing alongside Vijay Iyer in his electronic pursuits, backing Das Racist and Mayer Hawthorne and other artists jazz, soul, and hip hop alike), it would seem that this range is more of an asset to the group than some may even realize.

The moment that best encapsulates the afternoon’s concert was epitomized in a little girl, likely no older than six, bouncing in her seat to a Charlie Parker tune. Occasionally, her mother would chide her and stop the girls wiggling, but she’d only revert back to her exuberant dancing. It was heartwarming, and likely a rare site to see in the room filled mostly with older patrons. Likely most of the young people in attendance were part of the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, brought in through the efforts of KRTU San Antonio’s Growing Jazz program, thus one could home there likely were other young people sprinkled throughout the crowd also kowtowing to the instinct to groove. I’m certain Geri Allen and her quartet were pleased to incite such a response.

Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio. More of his writing can be found at his blog, In Retrospect and you can also follow him on Twitter.