When it comes to spotting young talent worthy of wider recognition, it’s often those small independent labels who are responsible for giving the youngsters some visibility. This also makes for a good situation in terms of the artist because he/she, more often than not, has more control over the artistic integrity of the final product, something that is not as easily achieved when spending the big corporate dollars. The downside, however, is that the coffers for publicity are on the small side when you’re hooked up with the little independent guy. SteepleChase producer Nils Winther apparently liked what he heard when first checking out George Colligan because he gave the pianist a chance to cultivate his original voice as a vital SteepleChase artist. While not as visible here in the U.S. as those guys with the major label contracts, Colligan shows signs of becoming one of the best pianists and composers of his generation.
The last Colligan SteepleChase from the back catalog to see a domestic release, Constant Source is arguably among his boldest statements. With a resonant front line pairing of alto and tenor sax (played by Jon Gordon and Mark Tuner respectively), Colligan and his crack rhythm section pull out all the stops via a ten selection set of originals (albeit a reworking of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”). The whole program is made up of beefy and well-developed charts that forgo the trite and customary.
“Tarantula” sounds just like its name, with counterpoint between bass and the piano’s low end adding to the mysterious vibe. Perhaps the catchiest of the lot, “Saga” utilizes a captivating piano vamp that launches the head and subsequent solos, ultimately settling into a hybrid bossa groove. The third tune of the program is an atypical ballad entitled “Flint Michigan,” although both the CD label and the tune list on the back have the cut incorrectly listed as track number four. Showing just how adept he is at drastically altering standards, Colligan takes “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and turns it into a medium tempo romp in seven, with the bridge alternating between 4/4, 6/4, and a 5/8 tag.
Two pieces hint at the impact of Colligan inspiration Gary Thomas. “Pitchrider” speaks in terms of ‘70s fusion, complete with George’s use of Fender Rhodes, while “Void” clocks in at over 13 minutes and contains dense passages of collective interplay that are punctuated by Howard Curtis’ acute drum work. The electric piano shows up again on the slow and spacey “My Eyes That Cried,” with the title track leaving a postscript in regards to Colligan’s compositional gifts, penned in the odd meter of 5/4.
For the present, Colligan has proved a valuable sideman to vocalist Cassandra Wilson, saxophonist Don Braden, and trombonist Robin Eubanks. His already impressive oeuvre will be supplemented shortly by a new release on the Fresh Sound label and a forthcoming SteepleChase trio date. In the meantime, Constant Source, not to mention his other SteepleChase sides, finds Colligan speaking with an authority and maturation that belies his youth.
Personnel: George Colligan (piano and Fender Rhodes), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Jon Gordon (alto & soprano saxophones), Ed Howard (bass), Howard Curtis (drums)