Geri Allen put her heart on the line Wednesday at the Jazz Bakery. Her heart, her imagination, her spirit and her capacity to enliven everything from soul-drenched spirituals to hard-edged post-bop.
Although her visibility doesn't rise to the level of a Herbie Hancock or a Chick Corea, Allen is a similarly versatile pianist-composer. And her playing throughout Wednesday's opening set was a paragon example of the complex of musical styles and issues facing jazz pianists in post-20th century jazz.
Allen's new recording, "Timeless Portraits and Dreams," embraces both the secular and the spiritual elements of jazz, and her live program took a similar tack. She began with the spiritual "Oh, Freedom," outlining the work's plaintive melody with a floating sequence of atmospheric chording.
Other pieces from the album followed in an excursion of variegated sounds and rhythms reaching from her own tender "Portraits and Dreams" to a startling arrangement of Charlie Parker's "Ah-Leu-Cha," in which the rapid-fire bebop theme suddenly burst through the seams of a quiet, ballad-like opening. Allen's solo kept the flames alive in a series of Bud Powell-reminiscent choruses, powerfully driven by the fast-fingered support of bassist Kenny Davis.