George Colligan

The Endless Mysteries


MUSIC REVIEW BY Ben Turner, Jazz Reviews


George Colligan's been busy gigging, teaching ingrates like myself at Portland State, raising a son, and he had time to record a great trio album with Jack DeJohnette and Larry Grenadier. Man, what am I doing with my life?

George is a long-time friend of and collaborator with Jack DeJohnette, touring worldwide and appearing with him at last year's Portland Jazz Fest. He holds degree in trumpet from Peabody, mostly taught himself piano, and gigs on drums in New York City. Released on Origin Records, this is a trio album of George's original tunes. This selection doesn't feature as many odd-meter or odd-form (i.e. seven-measure phrases) elements as I often associate with his compositions, but then again, I haven't sat down and tried to play any of these tunes. I'm just sitting here listening to the album eating oreos.

Waiting For Solitude kicks off the album with rubato piano and then it's into a cool 6-beat groove. A lot of rim playing from Jack, no cymbals or snare at first. It's got a loose, kind of tumbling feel. Nice cluster piano voicings. Then the next track, Song For The Tarahumera. On first listen, this one stuck out the most. I found myself humming it from time to time and thinking, "what a hip melody" whose tune is that? Tom Harrell? Ohhh, it's just one of George's - It's a catchy, comparatively simple riff over a few different chords, and then we're off. First is George's solo, starting with some motivic playing and building to some fat chords. Then it's a solo from Larry, and the song ends with a vamp that Jack does some heavy soloing over. I noticed some on-the-fly reharmonizing that everyone goes along with seamlessly.

Her Majesty ? People have told me they love Monk's playing because you can hear him think - there are some great moments in George's solo where I can imagine him thinking, "hey, what if I did this?" and then he nails it. There's a particular passage with an arpeggiated figure repeated and transposed a few times. The end vamp of major chords is a cool harmonic illusion that sounds like it's going higher and higher. Next up is Liam?s Lament, Liam being George?s son. Rubato bass intro, then George comes in on melodica (no piano on this track). The texture is a lot like harmonica, and it makes me think of traditional/folk music. It's a good example of a tune having groove without distinct time, though soon a pulse is established. Still, it's not strict time - it's a pulse that everyone plays around.

Next up, It's Hard Work! ? nice funky groove with piano and bass playing a riff in unison. It's a happy little melody with some chromatic side-stepping. Could just be the title, but I imagine a twisted-around Whistle While You Work kind of thing. It's a great platform for double-time playing, and the melody/riff comes back at the end as a vamp and remains present throughout the piece. Thoughts of Ana is a heartfelt solo piano piece, written for a friend's daughter who was a victim of the Newton, CT school shootings. It's classically influenced and pianistic - lots of pedaling, a lot of notes ringing out. Delicate. Next is Outrage, again in reference to the Sandy Hook shootings. It's a free jazz piece with a lot of dissonance and clusters all across the range of the piano. Larry and Jack join in on this one - both established and respected "free" musicians. I hear a kind of controlled anger in the piece.

Then the title cut: The Endless Mysteries. Nice loose feel, a slow pulse to the groove which lets everyone stretch out and play with rhythm. The energy remains high through the bass solo - it might be one of my favorite passages in the song. Expert comping from George, and just the right amount of improvising from Jack. He's not at all taking the spotlight - just playing his tasty stuff.

When The Moon Is In The Sky , a nice waltz with triplet underpinnings that often give it a 9/8 feel. Like the other tunes, this one has a great arc. The piano solo builds into chords and double time with Jack's signature drum explosions. More of that drumming on the end vamp too. Last is If The Mountain Was Smooth, You Couldn't Climb It. I can't remember where George got this quote (he told us once in class, I was probably playing angry birds). It?s saying that if life were too easy, you wouldn?t go anywhere. It's got a triumphant repeating melody that rides the piece (and the album) out.

The album has got a huge sound for just three musicians. I'm always fascinated by Avishai Cohen's ability to do this on his albums too. It's not the production, it's how they utilize the full range of their instruments. It doesn't feel like an hour of rehashed grooves either, which piano trio albums can fall into. I was also psyched to hear George do an album with members of arguably the two biggest piano trios out there right now (Larry and Jack play with Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett, respectively). And it turned out great. George has wonderful harmonic sensibilities and his tunes always "work" - I get the impression he's always realizing his vision, and that it's rarely "accidental art." And like the last album I reviewed, Joey DeFrancesco's One For Rudy, I feel like the musicians are within their comfort zones - pushing against the outer limits at times, but never lost or bewildered.





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