PERHAPS the nicest thing you can say about keyboardist Geri Allen's album "In the Middle" is that it lives up to the name of her band: Open On All Sides.
A former Washingtonian and a Howard University graduate, Allen enthusiastically embraces jazz, pop, funk, salsa, Brazilian music and even dance. She's wide open to influences of all kinds, and her album is clearly stronger for its stylistic reach.
As a composer, Allen has a somewhat quirky sense of harmony, so that even her most pop-ish tunes have a few surprises. Her keyboard and horn arrangements, plus the one horn arrangement by saxophonist Steve Coleman on the album's title tune, evoke a variety of moods, from somber reflections to vibrant funk. She cannily taps the individual (and sometimes idiosyncratic) talents of David McMurray (sax and flute), Racy Biggs (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Robin Banks (trombone). While never jarring, much of the music has a fresh, adventurous, spontaneous spirit.
Some of the tunes, including "The Dancer," which features tap dancer Lloyd Storey, are short and sly. Others, such as "I Sang a bright green tear for all of us this year," wistfully sung by Shahita Nurallah, are soothing and poetic, if a bit long-winded. And in between, there's something to suit just about everyone's taste, including some fine performances from Allen's guests: flugelhorn player Marcus Belgrave and percussionist Mino Cinelu.
GERI ALLEN AND OPEN ON ALL SIDES -- "In the Middle" (Polygram PSI 801013). Appearing at the Duke Ellington Auditorium Sunday night.