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Sir Roland Hanna: Colors from a Giant's Kit

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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This 1990s recording, produced by William Sorin, a loving fan of pianist Sir Roland Hanna is a riveting one. Featuring the maestro alone, playing what must have been some of his favorite charts, was carefully thought out. And though it does not come with too many of Hanna's own compositions it does—like Jaki Byard's fable recordings, Sunshine of My Soul—Live at the Keystone Korner (HighNote, 2007) and its companion volume, A Matter of Black and White—Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2 (HighNote, 2011)—contain all of the reasons why Hanna was a musician's musician.

Hanna's technical mastery and sweep of the keyboard is rarely matched, his musicality is sublime and his sense of timing is as perfect as his indomitable swing. Hanna always played with a certain sense of joy that came from a deep association with the blues, and like his one-time employer, Coleman Hawkins, his music was infused with sentiment and emotion, yet he was always in command of where he wanted to go musically. This he did with so little fuss that his virtuosity is often forgotten. Thus, this album might figure as a constant reminder of Hanna's all-but-forgotten contributions to the literature of the piano.

The program opens with a command performance of one of Hanna's majestic compositions, "Colors from a Giant's Kit," which is a pièce de résistance; a superb example of both the speed and content of the pianist's flow of ideas. The rapidity with which he thinks and the long, unbroken lines that ebb and flow like a riptide, as they lead into one another, are extraordinary examples of how alive Hanna's mind was as he played. There is nothing preconceived here, yet all of his narrative is glued together with highly suggestive drama. This quality of composition and playing surfaces throughout the verse and refrain of "A Story, Often Told But Seldom Heard." Here, however, Hanna's playing has a different color. The deeply emotional aspect of his pianism is heard in the aching balladry of the melody. "Blues" is a masterly visit to his roots. Hanna also reveals a characteristic trait of his technique in this chart as in "20th Century Rag."

The pianist was a strong, two-handed player. His left hand was often so active that he created an unrivalled density in his harmonies. Unlike pianists such as Art Tatum and, more so, Oscar Peterson, Hanna preferred the broad strokes of chords that mimicked double-stops of a bass violin—and this remained fairly constant—rather than taking the florid route of single notes played rapidly and interspersed with chords. However, on "Cherokee," Hanna does show that he was capable of almost anything with his left hand. Here the pianist also shows his sublime command of the pedals, using the sustained one with particular brilliance.

At a time where there is a surfeit of piano works, Colors from a Giant's Kit comes out, leading the proverbial renaissance of this instrument in jazz repertoire.

Track Listing: Colors From A Giant's Kit; Natalie Rosanne; A Story, Often Told But Seldom Heard; Robbin's Nest; My Romance; Blues; 'Cello; Moment's Notice; Lush Life; 20th Century Rag; Naima; Chelsea Bridge; In A Mellow Tone; Cherokee.

Personnel: Sir Roland Hanna: piano.

Title: Colors From A Giant's Kit | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: IPO Recordings

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