It's a common scene at a Portland jam session: George Colligan walks in, sits at the piano and rips a nimble bebop solo. George Colligan pulls out his pocket trumpet, plays a subdued solo, then moves to the bass--you see where this is going. Colligan's multi-instrumental prowess is well known, but until Risky Notion, the acclaimed pianist had never recorded an album on drums.
The project isn't just a novelty. Colligan's played with some of the finest drummers in jazz--he's recently been in the piano chair with Jack DeJohnette--and the compositions on Risky Notion are fully realized and well-rehearsed. In fact, while he may not be a technical whiz, Colligan sounds remarkably at home behind the kit.
While the album is, on the one hand, an exercise for Colligan's drum chops, it also serves as an excellent showcase for some of Portland's brightest young talent. I've had the opportunity to play with saxophonist Nicole Glover and bassist Jon Lakey, and can attest that they're some of the most gifted, surprising, and musical players on the scene. Saxophonist Joe Manis is of a different generation, but he fits effortlessly into the hard-swinging vibe.
The tunes generally favor moods and attitudes over complex changes; "Gorgasaurus" is a hard-driving, Elvin Jones-esque swinger that starts with a repeated bass motif and breaks down as Manis and Glover blow over the top. Throughout, Colligan and Lakey offer enough interplay to fill the void left by the album's lack of chordal instrument, especially when the horns are in harmony. On a few tracks, trumpeter Tony Glausi joins in, offering a welcome third voice and some angular lines; he particularly shines on the quirky rhumba and funk grooves of "Harmawhatics," the tune being one of several winks Colligan makes at his listener. Sure, he seems to say, there's a bit of novelty at play--but it's still good music.