Since emerging on the scene a scant ten years ago, pianist George Colligan has built the kind of body of work that some artists don't manage in twice or thrice the time. Appearing on over seventy recordings, including over a dozen as a leader, Colligan has proven that one doesn't have to be stylistically myopic to remain focused. Instead, he seems to have an all-encompassing musical appetite. And yet, unlike some who attempt a variety of musical styles and ultimately end up sounding like dabblers rather than serious contenders, Colligan seems to "get everything he tackles.
That Past-Present-Future (Criss Cross, 2005) and Realization can come from the same artist indicates the extended range of Colligan's musical reach. The former is a piano trio disc, with heavy emphasis on standards, while the latter is a hard-hitting funk and fusion affair with Colligan on Hammond B3 organ and synthesizers, featuring his Mad Science trio and a set of original compositions mainly by Colligan, but with one short piece each by guitarist Tom Guarna and drummer Rodney Holmes.
There are trace elements of '70s fusion groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, but the group that Colligan seems most inspired by is the early Tony Williams Lifetime trio with Larry Young and John McLaughlin, although Mad Science is less raw, with fewer nerves exposed. Still, the energy level is high on tunes including the funky "Grounded and the up-tempo 7/4 faux-Latin of "Oblivion.
Few pianists make a successful transition to organ, but Colligan clearly understands the different aesthetic. Colligan's use of synthesizer is spare, managing to sound somehow retro while staying away from the seemingly inevitable cheese factor. And while Mad Science is all about the f-word, everyone manages to stay away from the meaningless pyrotechnics that so often give fusion a bad name.
That doesn't mean there isn't plenty of high velocity playing. Guarna often favours a thick fuzz tone that hasn't been heard much since the early '70s, soaring on tracks like the brisk "Utopian Struggle. But even at his most energetic, Guarna's solos don't feel like speed for the sake of it; there's a sense of purpose that is antithetical to the kind of musical excess so often heard in fusion. Likewise, Colligan places substance ahead of style, with well-constructed solos that are open-ended yet logically self-contained.
Holmes is equally capable. When he breaks into a fast triplet feel over the sneaky hip-hop beat of "Snidely Whiplash, one is reminded of Dennis Chambers' Blue Matter-era work with John Scofield, but with more restraint.
Realization is the kind of record that counters all the usual arguments against fusion. Powerful without being heavy-handed, George Colligan's Mad Science proves that lithe and lively playing doesn't have to come at the expense of taste and discretion.
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Personnel: George Colligan (Hammond B3 Organ, Computer Synthesizers), Tom Guarna (guitars), Rodney Holmes (drums)