As writer Mark Gardner so succinctly points out in his liners to pianist George Colligan’s latest SteepleChase side, “George is not about to sit back on his laurels. His curiosity and restless creativity will continue stimulating him to make and record music of a most singular stripe.” Looking at his previous six SteepleChase recordings, covering standards and originals and varying the line-up from trios and quintets to solo and duo projects, further solidifies this fact.
His third trio date, Agent 99 stands out from the pack for several reasons. First of all, it features two young musicians who worked very briefly with Colligan and have since gone on to other endeavors. Then, there’s George’s way of approaching the program of mostly standards that leads to anything but the routine or clichéd. It’s almost as if Colligan gets down on his knees, like a golfer examining all the angles before the final shot, looking for a new slant or perspective. Take for example Gigi Gryce’s “Minority.” It’s been done hundreds of times before, but not exactly like this. Colligan starts with single notes, almost in a childlike way, which he ponders over in highly rhythmic fashion. In another artistic move, we eventually arrive at Wayne Shorter’s “El Gaucho” only by way of interpolating a phrase from Herbie Hancock’s “Riot.”
One of only two originals, George’s title track sports a boogaloo tempo with a riff not unlike the classic groove of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder.” But then, everything Colligan touches he makes his own. In fact, Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me” has been so transformed as to be almost unrecognizable. Aside from the sound quality, which seems a bit rough in spots, nothing but superlatives seem to be in order for yet another solid entry by one of New York’s finest.