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Alex Collins Trio and Quintet at The Puffin Cultural Forum

David A. Orthmann By

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Alex Collins Trio and Quintet
The Puffin Cultural Forum
Teaneck, NJ
March 18, 2006

Alex Collins is something of a local hero. The young pianist, currently a student at the Eastman School of Music, played at the Puffin's weekly jam sessions while in High School. For his third annual concert at the performance space, Collins was warmly greeted by an overflow crowd of family, friends, and well wishers. Words like "genius and "immensely talented were in the air before the first note sounded.

With a couple of exceptions, the two sets showcased Collins' compositions. His material was competent and well constructed, but not particularly distinctive. The concert began with "The Wandering Titan, an up-tempo play on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps. Collins was joined by bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Chris Brown. His solo displayed a solid touch on the piano, excellent technique, and a distinct McCoy Tyner influence. These characteristics persisted throughout the night. Collins usually put ideas together in a clear, comprehensible manner, yet his consistent reference to Tyner's strong single note lines and muscular chords did not foretell the emergence of a more personal voice.

"Phantasm featured a slow, hymn-like solo piano introduction before evolving into a nondescript ballad. The reflective side of Collins' playing was enlivened by a series of ascending chords, yet as a whole sounded more sweet than substantive.

For the second set the trio was joined by two former winners of the Thelonious Monk Competition, alto saxophonist Jon Gordon and trumpeter Darren Barrett. Both of them gave the concert a much needed infusion of individuality. They found different ways to interpret "Pocket Aces, Collins' quasi-funk tune. Barrett's solo started off with long, skittering, high note runs, and then got more basic and soulful, a la Lee Morgan. The biting phrases that followed drew a loud, enthusiastic response from the audience. After some mild, almost polite funk, Gordon careened into the horn's upper register, combining swirling bebop figures and emphatic blues declarations. His rapid sixteenth note lines moved rapidly up and down the horn, only to be eclipsed by a high pitched scream.

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