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Night of the Piano

When night falls at the Festival, the mood changes, the lights of the booths and venues bring everyone into sharper focus while the fog softly hugs the grounds.  A good weather day and a not too chilly night blessed this Saturday event and prepared the way for the more cerebral straightahead piano trio of Geri Allen. 

The set in the Lyons Arena Stage began with Allen in a slightly somber and thoughtful solo.  As the sounds of her music seeped over the grounds, the chatty bonhomie of the Festivalgoers seemed to quieten some, perhaps the conversations deepened. 

As the set began, the arena audience was thinner than in the balmy afternoon, but as the sound of her piano filled the grounds, slowly slowly the seats filled. Allen’s base player, Kenny Davis and drummer Kassa Overall took their places and played masterfully all night. As an homage to Sammy Davis Jr., dancer Maurice Chestnut provided another instrument, the percussion of his tap shoes, in an original composition commissioned by the 2011 MJF called “The Dazzler.” 

The pieces including “Lover Man” performed with tap as part of the instrumentation were as exhilarating to watch as to hear.

Allen is one of the steadiest of jazz artists, consistently creating intelligent and accessible music, capable of torrents of technical brilliance, she tends to be spare, leaving a lot of room for the notes to ring and influence each other, an artist whose work never gets stale.

Joshua Redman’s group James Farm followed Allen  and I listened to them streaming live into the KUSP van as I wrote my afternoon blog posts for KUSP’s prodigious live coverage of the event. Then it was Herbie Hancock.

The piano on the Lyons Stage will never be the same.