Blindfold Test: George Colligan


George Colligan

(Photo: Chad McCullough)

Best known for his scintillating work as a pianist-keyboardist-organist during the past three decades on the international jazz scene, George Colligan showcases his drumkit skills on Theoretical Planets: Long Term Goals (Portland Jazz Composer Ensemble), his 34th date as a bandleader, with a group consisting of all former students he taught at Portland State University, plus colleague Joe Manis on saxophone. This was Colligan’s first Blindfold Test.

Noah Haidu
“Duchess” (Slowly: Song For Keith Jarrett, Sunnyside, 2021) Haidu, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Billy Hart, drums.
Billy Hart on drums. I know by his tuning and his cymbals. It’s “Duchess” — Billy’s tune. I recorded it with Billy. That’s Buster on bass. Is the pianist Noah Haidu? I saw that he did a record with them. Noah studied with me. He sounds great. I like the mix. I like the piano sound, clear but a bit dark in a good way. The original recording of this tune, from Billy’s record Oshumare, from 1985, has that loose straight-eighth vibe but it’s also very energetic. This is more mellow, a slow-jam version, which I like. It’s very musical. 5 stars.

James Francies
“My Favorite Things” (Purest Form, Blue Note, 2021) Francies, piano, synthesizer; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Burniss Travis III, bass; Jeremy Dutton, drums; Mike Moreno, guitar.
A fresh take on “My Favorite Things.” A lot of odd meters in a very intense arrangement. Dave Binney on alto? — it’s that postmodern alto, which I love. Is the vibes player Joel Ross? The drummer reminds me of Terreon Gully or Chris Dave — or maybe someone younger like Mark Whitfield Jr. There’s the gospel chops influence that I hear a lot now, and the snare tuning is interesting — it’s maybe a piccolo snare or a smaller snare. I do wish the bass player would move around more harmonically and stay less with the pedal, though I get that it’s part of the arrangement. I guess it’s the pianist’s record, though they don’t feature themselves enough to make it obvious. I love their sound conception. Fantastic chops. Fantastic rhythm. It’s amazing to see so many young cats with all the chops and creativity. It’s intimidating.

Vijay Iyer/Linda May Han Oh/Tyshawn Sorey
“Drummer’s Song” (Uneasy, ECM, 2021) Iyer, piano; Oh, bass; Sorey, drums.
This is a Geri Allen tune that I heard on her record with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. That version was much more straightforward. I think this pianist is younger. Is Linda Oh on bass? Then it’s Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh and Tyshawn Sorey. Tyshawn is a genius, which is a word I don’t use a lot. He can imitate anybody, go in any zone at any time. I should have recognized Vijay’s touch. He does certain chromatic things, and he’s heavy rhythmically with a lighter piano sound. I like Linda’s sound a lot. She’s an example of the modern bass player who is right in the middle — not just the mic and not just the amp. She knows how to be active in a way that makes the music go somewhere. 5 stars.

Sylvie Courvoisier
“Requiem D’un Songe” (Free Hoops, Intakt, 2020) Courvoisier, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums.
I like the intro — spooky. I love the use of space. The arrangement has the bassline but also a lot of freedom. The pianist’s technique reminds me of Matt Mitchell, but it’s not him. Beautifully played. I love the freedom, the different events within one thing, the energy, the vibe, the recording quality. Is Drew Gress on bass? Is this type of thing the pianist’s main bag, or are other things on the record more straightahead? [afterwards] I loved that piece. Sometimes I wish I could go into that zone full-time, but something prevents me from doing that. 5 stars.

Eldar Djangirov
“Night In Tunisia” (Rhapsodize, Twelve Tone Resonance, 2020) Djangirov, piano; Raviv Markovitz, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums.
Are these musicians from the Southern Hemisphere? No? I was going to say it reminds me of Gonzalo Rubalcaba. A lot of Cuban jazz I’ve heard leans towards fusion, maybe because they didn’t get all the older records — it’s like Chick Corea is their starting point. Wow, that’s a lot of chops! Was the pianist trained in the East under Communism? [It’s complicated, but you’re close.] It’s Eldar. This is amazing technically. He starts to play some things, and you wonder if he’d be able to pull that off — and he does. It’s so clean, so precise. The only reason I don’t play like that is because I can’t! Super-impressive. 5 stars.

Alex Conde
“Oblivion” (Descarga For Bud, Sedajazz, 2021) Conde, piano; Jeff Chambers, bass; Colin Douglas, drums; Jose Luis de la Paz, guitar; John Santos, congas; Sergio Martinez, cajon.
Flamenco — like a rumba. This is Bud Powell’s “Oblivion,” which Geri Allen recorded with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. It’s an interesting choice — Bud Powell by way of Spain. I did a couple of records with Marc Miralta and some Spanish guys, and we leaned in this direction, using palmas and cajón. I love the groove, and the pianist has great chops and lots of musicality. Another great pianist who’s putting me out of business!

Keith Brown
“African Ripples, Part 1 And 2” (African Ripples, Space Time, 2021) Keith Brown, piano; Dezron Douglas, bass; Darrell Grant, drums.
A modern treatment of a Fats Waller song — a lot of things happening here. Cool arrangement, traditional but free. Rudy Royston on drums? [Part 2 begins] Christian McBride on bass? I love what the bass player is doing. I was thinking of Jason Moran, but it’s not him. This is probably a young pianist. Great playing — swinging, very rhythmic. Hip arrangement, hip approach. It’s got traditional elements. It’s got blues. It’s got swing. It’s got the freer aspects. That’s how I’d classify the modern mainstream. DB

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