by Ian Mann
April 04, 2020
The quality of the playing is exceptional and there’s an excellent level of rapport between the members of the trio.
The George Colligan Trio
“Live In Arklow”
(Ubuntu Music UBU0055)
George Colligan – piano, Darren Beckett- drums, David Redmond- double bass
This live recording was documented on May 5th 2018 at Arklow Methodist Church, County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland. It features the American pianist and composer George Colligan in the company of the Irish musicians Darren Beckett (drums) and David Redmond (double bass). The concert was part of Bray Jazz Festival’s “On The Road Series” and was recorded for posterity by sound engineer Adam Faulkner.
In his liner notes Colligan enthuses about the album thus;
“It was a magical night in a magical venue with a magical piano and a magical trio and a magical audience. Sometimes all the parameters are right and it creates the perfect setting. It doesn’t always happen, in fact it seems these days it rarely happens. When it does I try to savour it. Luckily, the tape was rolling and we captured it forever.”
Born in 1970 New York based Colligan has enjoyed a prolific and productive jazz career, but without ever really establishing himself as a major ‘name’. A versatile and adaptable sideman he has appeared on well over one hundred albums in this capacity. He has also released over twenty albums as a leader, beginning with 1995’s “Activism”. His playing has been compared with that of such departed pianistic giants as McCoy Tyner, John Hicks and Mulgrew Miller.
As a sideman Colligan’s credits include work with drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassists Larry Grenadier and Buster Williams, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Ravi Coltrane and Gary Thomas, clarinettist Don Byron, flautist Jamie Baum and vocalist Cassandra Wilson among many others.
Contributors to his numerous solo albums include musicians of the calibre of saxophonists Mark Turner and Perico Sambeat, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, bassist Drew Gress and drummers Ralph Peterson, Billy Hart and Billy Drummond.
In 2012 I saw Colligan perform live for the only time as part of the Jack DeJohnette Group at the Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham, in a stellar line up that also included Don Byron on both clarinet and tenor sax. During this performance the ridiculously talented Colligan also revealed himself to be a fine exponent of the pocket trumpet, the instrument popularised by the late, great Don Cherry. My review of that event can be read here;
In 2017 I covered Colligan’s excellent album “More Powerful”, which was released on Whirlwind Recordings and featured the talents of bassist Linda Oh, drummer Rudy Royston and saxophonist Nicole Glover. My review, from which some of the above paragraphs have been adapted, appears here;
Colligan was also part of the Embodied Hope Quartet, led by Scottish drummer and composer Andrew Bain and also featuring American saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Whirlwind label owner Michael Janisch (double bass). My review of Bain’s “Embodied Hope” album can be read here;
Meanwhile guest contributor Sean Wilkie’s account of a live performance by the same quartet at Dempsey’s in Cardiff is here;
Central to this latest recording is Colligan’s musical relationship with Darren Beckett, the Irish born drummer who left the Emerald Isle to study jazz in New York, eventually settling, living and working in the city for some twenty one years.
As Colligan recounts in his album notes he and Beckett worked together regularly in the late 1990s and Beckett appeared on Colligan’s acclaimed 1999 trio album “Agent 99”, the group being completed by bassist Doug Weiss.
Despite not having played together for over twenty years Colligan and Beckett had kept in touch and as they toured Ireland with this trio in 2018 they quickly re-captured their old chemistry and familiarity.
Colligan is also quick to praise the contribution of Irish bassist Redmond, a musician he had not met prior to the tour. He describes Redmond as a “kindred spirit” and remarks “Dave serves the music, but can take the spotlight as a soloist when he wants to do so. This is a great trio and I hope we have a future. Hopefully, this recording will help to facilitate this”.
Colligan’s tenure with Whirlwind appears to be over and “Live In Arklow” appears on the Ubuntu record label founded by Martin Hummel. The new album features the trio stretching out expansively over the course of three Colligan originals plus three ‘outside’ compositions from the pens of Freddie Hubbard, Cole Porter and Carlos Lyra.
First up is a nine and a half minute exploration of one of trumpeter Hubbard’s most famous compositions, the jazz waltz “Up Jumped Spring”. This is introduced by a brief solo passage from Colligan on a piano that he describes as; “so well maintained that you feel like you could sit on the keys or mash your hand down and it would be the most beautiful chord you’ve ever heard.”
Once Beckett and Redmond come on board to supply a relaxed but propulsive swing Colligan solos in more discursive fashion, his playing, and that of his rhythm colleagues becoming more animated intense as the performance progresses and the trio begin to build a seemingly unstoppable momentum. Colligan has always been a brilliant technician and his Tyner-esque playing becomes more and more dazzling as the piece unfolds, finally coming to a peak, at which point he hands over to the impressive Redmond, and subsequently to Beckett, who enjoys a series of increasingly busy and powerful drum breaks. The audience applause remains in the mix and serves as a testament to their efforts.
Colligan’s own “Lost on Fourth Avenue” follows, an even lengthier excursion that is again introduced solo by the leader at the piano. The feel of this piece is far more contemporary and at eleven and a half minutes in duration the piece possesses a strong narrative arc. Redmond, whose playing I have previously heard in bands led by the Irish musicians Tommy Halferty (guitar) and Kevin Brady (drums), is featured early on when his bass takes on the melody for a while. Colligan subsequently takes over as the piece continues to unfold with Redmond’s implacable bass underpinning Colligan’s increasingly expansive piano ruminations and Beckett’s colourful, restlessly imaginative drumming. With Redmond shoring things up the chemistry between Colligan and Beckett is truly allowed to flourish with both musicians impressing as the music again builds to a peak before subsiding, and then building once more. Along the way room is found for an absorbing dialogue between Colligan and Redmond, with these two still in conversation at the close.
A second Colligan original, “Again with Attitude”, commences with a virtuoso passage of solo piano from the composer, incorporating a variety of stylistic flourishes. Eventually Colligan introduces a motif that becomes the basis for a groove, and we’re off again with Redmond again the anchor for the sparky interaction between Colligan and Beckett. Nevertheless Redmond also gets to enjoy a feature of his own, and he makes the most of his freedom with a virtuoso bass solo. Colligan positively sparkles as he takes up the reins once more, skilfully supported by Beckett’s crisp and inventive drumming. The drummer then gets to relish a series of increasingly dynamic drum breaks in a series of fiery exchanges with Colligan. This spirited trio performance draws a hugely enthusiastic reception from the Arklow audience.
Colligan cools things down with the pensive solo piano introduction to Cole Porter’s “What Is Thing Called Love”, which is delivered as a thoughtful, gently smouldering ballad with Beckett displaying a more sensitive side of his playing with some delicate brush work as he adopts more of a colourist’s role. Colligan too emphasises a more lyrical aspect of his pianism while Redmond features prominently with an extended, and richly melodic, bass solo.
Written by the Brazilian composer, vocalist and guitarist Carlos Lyra “The Influence of Jazz” introduces a South American element into the proceedings and is a breezy, energetic samba that brings a dash of tropical sunshine to this corner of South East Ireland. There’s a real joyousness about the trio’s playing here with Colligan swarming all over the keyboard with Beckett and Redmond in hot pursuit. The bassist is also afforded his own feature and rises to the challenge with some virtuoso playing of his own. Meanwhile Beckett’s exuberant drum feature finds him coaxing an impressive array of percussive sounds from his drum kit.
The album concludes with Colligan’s composition “Usain”, almost certainly named for the great Jamaican sprinter. The piece certainly roars out of the blocks at an appropriately breakneck tempo and is an eight minute ball of energy. Colligan solos at mind melting pace, supported by what must be the most rapid bass walk ever and the headlong rush of Beckett’s drum and cymbal work. There’s a brief respite for Redmond’s bass feature, but even that remains pretty frenetic, as does Beckett’s subsequent drum assault. Rather strangely the final audience applause is omitted – they must have loved this!
“Everything was in sync on this night. I hope you can feel that magic when you listen” concludes Colligan.
And of course, he has a point. The quality of the playing is exceptional and there’s an excellent level of rapport between the members of the trio, and particularly between old friends Colligan and Beckett, who rekindle their musical relationship in spectacular fashion.
That said there is still something of the feel of ‘guest soloist plus local rhythm section about it’, although obviously it’s very superior version of the format. As is my wont I actually prefer the performances of Colligan’s own compositions to those of the standards, although I appreciate other listeners may appreciate the familiarity of material that they already know. However with Colligan remarking that he hopes this trio has a future it will be intriguing to see if this group subsequently reconvenes in a studio to deliver an album with a greater concentration on original material. I’d certainly be interested in hearing the results.
In any event “Made In Arklow” is still a worthwhile and frequently excellent record of this trio and the concert was obviously a hugely memorable event for all those that were there, both band and audience.
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