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George Colligan Trio: Blood Pressure

John Kelman By

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One look at George Colligan's discography as a sideman and the word "multifaceted" comes immediately to mind. From the post bop of Eddie Henderson to the complex orchestrations of Jamie Baum and the gritty R&B of Don Byron's tribute to Junior Walker, Colligan has done it all.

In 2005 the pianist released the mainstream Past-Present-Future (Criss Cross) and unapologetically fusion-centric Realization (Sirocco). Blood Pressure sits somewhere in between. Its generally acoustic vibe is enhanced on occasion with synths, flute, violin and electric bass, but it's largely a trio outing, ranging from easy-on-the-ears to jaggedly angular.

The group, officially credited as the George Colligan Trio, brings together two bassists and three drummers in almost every combination possible. Given this fact, the coherence of this set of fourteen Colligan originals is surprising. And it's even more remarkable since this may be Colligan's most stylistically diverse set to date.

"Rose Colored Glass," despite its tricky shifting bar lines, retains a certain lyricism, fuelled by drummer EJ Strickland and bassist Josh Ginsberg's effervescent energy. The vibe recalls Chick Corea's Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State, 1968) trio and, at times, his late-1970s Friends (Polydor, 1978) quartet. The Latin vibe of "Enjoy It While It Lasts," featuring guest flautist Jamie Baum and Colligan on Fender Rhodes, is even more referential to Friends, as is the fiery swing of "Motivation." Yet as evocative as it is of Corea, Colligan's approach possesses none of the iconic pianist's defining stylistic quirks. Instead, Colligan's voice, though not as instantly recognizable as pianist Brad Mehldau's, for example, retains its own character.

"Nightmare I" and "Angry Monk," with Boris Kozlov on electric and acoustic bass respectively, are abstrusely freewheeling miniatures, based on the barest of sketches. The pianist also indulges the funky but skewed "Question?" and soft groove of "Honesty"—which, with its soft synth wash underneath Colligan's melancholic lyricism, is reminiscent of Lyle Mays' Street Dreams (Warner Bros., 1988). But Colligan's ability to bring together disparate musical directions, including the electronic landscape of the brief "Flashback I," helps make the album a high point in Colligan's career.

All too often sessions with multiple rhythm sections end up sterile because there's insufficient opportunity for everybody to loosen up and create a cohesive sound—and that's all the more reason to marvel at Colligan and Blood Pressure. While the various ensembles all possess nuanced differentiating characteristics, their collective sense of commitment, engagement and energy creates its own focus despite—or perhaps as a consequence of—the multiplicity of Colligan's musical universe, which remains uncannily singular in its personal vision.

Track Listing: Rose Colored Glass; Debonaire; Blood Pressure; Enjoy It While It Lasts; Nightmare 1; Interiors; Big Trouble; Kerry

Personnel: George Colligan: piano, synthesizers; Josh Ginsberg: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Boris Kozlov: acoustic bass, electric bass; EJ Strickland: drums; Jamie Baum: flute; Meg Okura: violin.

Title: Blood Pressure | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Ultimatum Records

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