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Tom Collier – Alone In The Studio – Origin

Tom Collier – Alone In The Studio – Origin ORIGIN 82691 [3/17/15], 63:24 ****1/2:

(Tom Collier – vibraphone, marimba, piano, drums, bass synthesizer)

Percussionist Tom Collier traces his roots to Seattle and Sixties musical culture. He considers Gary Burton (especially his 1966 album, Time Machine ) a vital influence in his development. Additionally, pop music from that era (The Beatles, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass) provided insight into aspects of the recording process. His earliest gigs were on marimba. He eventually worked with Ry Cooder, Ernie Watts, Shelly Manne and Alex Acuna. Over the subsequent decades he recorded original music and accepted a position as Director Of Percussion at The University Of Washington. At the same time, he became adept at producing, mixing and mastering recordings. In late 2014 he went into the studio to record a solo album.

Alone In The Studio is a fearless combination of original material and a variety of standards from jazz, Broadway and pop. The opening track is a solo vibraphone (without overdubbing) version of Seattle-based Dave Lewis’ “Little Green Thing”. Beginning with delicate improvisational flourish, Collier exhibits the range and tonality of his instrument. His technique is fluid, and resonates as he pushes the tempo. He pays homage to Burton on the Larry Coryell composition “Lines” in similar fashion with a rollicking “no overdubs” approach. The musical complexity is compelling. Switching to finger-snapping cool, “Double Bars” has an expanded instrumentation. Piano, marimba, drums and synthesizer bass create a small combo feel. The piano solo at 1:49 is rhythmic and leads into a sprightly vibes solo.

The melodic nuances on “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” make the tender ballad graceful. Collier’s mellow reverberation on the vibes has a graceful, ruminative sway. He maintains the song structure, but with freewheeling agility. Gerry Mulligan’s “Five Brothers” is notable for an extended drum solo. Collier recalls his favorite pop albums on a medley. He offers a faithful rendition of Brian Wilson’s epic “God Only Knows” (from Pet Sounds), with deft, atmospheric vibe runs that eloquently utilize the uncanny chord structure.

With a syncopated bass line, he captures the dulcet innocence of a Paul McCartney classic (from Revolver) in  jazzy, subtle swing. (Note: McCartney has acknowledged the influence of “God Only Knows” on this song.). Collier’s vibes simply glow on this. “Softly As The Morning Sunrise” (from the 1928 Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein II operetta The New Moon) has been a jazz staple for years (Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins recorded versions of this tune), and Collier embraces it with prominent swing aesthetics. Collier has constructed a one-man jazz trio (vibes, drums, synthesizer bass) and contributes another drum solo. He always manages to weave the melody line into the jamming.

Another highlight of “Alone In The Studio” is a vibes/marimba arrangement of “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. This is one of Burt Bacharach’s most intriguing songs, full of interesting chords and shifts. The sonic dynamics of vibes and marimba fits perfectly. Collier’s meditative and nimble explorations on marimba are elegant. This instrumental structure is repeated on the title cut. This waltz-like original showcases Collier’s instrumental prowess. On “Turning To Spring” (the fourth recorded version of this number), he excels with an elongated vibes solo in a Latin-infused context. The finale (“Orbital Dance”) has a funk/jazz fusion motif that is different from the rest of the album.

Alone In The Studio is compelling, listenable music. The vibes and marimba sound rich and full. There are incisive liner notes explaining the session.   

TrackList: Little Green Thing; Lines; Double Bars; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Five Brothers; God Only Knows/Here There And Everywhere; Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise; Anyone Who Had A Heart; Turning To Spring; Alone; Orbital Dance

—Robbie Gerson

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