George Colligan Trio – Come Together – Sunnyside SSC 1226, 69:18 ****:
(George Colligan – piano, producer; Boris Kozlov – bass; Donald Edwards – drums)
On Come Together, George Colligan’s 19th outing as a leader, the pianist gets the chance to work with two fellow semi-regular members of the Mingus Big Band and Mingus Dynasty, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Donald Edwards. That’s one reason Colligan calls his latest record Come Together: it showcases the results when he, Kozlov and Edwards stepped into the studio for the first time as a trio and what happened in those five hours (including a lunch break).
The outcome is a vigorous outburst of jazz which reveals Colligan’s composition skills (eight of the 10 numbers are Colligan originals); the near-telepathic interplay of the group; and the abundant chops demonstrated by the three musicians.
The opening title tune – a Beatles single written by John Lennon – is one of only two covers Colligan chose for his project. Doing jazz renditions of The Fab Four is nothing new: from George Benson’s The Other Side of Abbey Road (1969) through to this year’s Norwegian Wood (The Beatles Go Jazz) featuring The Candid Jazz Orchestra, the Lennon/McCartney catalog is a popular and longstanding one. While several jazz artists have covered "Come Together," too often the adaptations have been nearly note-for-note replicas or the melody and/or lyrics have not been elevated or transformed into anything worth remembering. In this case, Colligan and his trio-mates accentuate the tune’s muscular and percussive groove and also employ flintier statements and bundled energy that escalates the melody beyond the original’s somewhat laissez-faire flow. The song’s appeal has always been the anthemic chorus, which is among the most instantly ear-catching of any late-sixties Beatles hit. Colligan persuasively revises the melody and chorus and systematically stretches out the harmonics. At times he throws away the melody and tosses in vivid piano extrapolations. Colligan’s arrangement of "Come Together" is also awash with penetrating rhythmic verve. Kozlov, for instance, lays out a rubbery and funky electric bass solo that is positioned halfway between Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius (who was renowned for his signature rendering of another Beatles cut, "Blackbird"). Edwards, too, does more than keep the beat by adding slingshot drum fills and crashing cymbal splashes.
In contrast is a chipper reading of Johnny Mandel’s old standby, "The Shadow of Your Smile." But like "Come Together," Colligan does not stay in familiar regions for long. After he delivers the amiable melody he, Edwards and Kozlov take off into unmapped waters as they reshape the standard. Colligan pursues a sustained solo while Kozlov undertakes appreciable work on his acoustic bass and Edwards marks the time and nourishes a steadfast, ticking rhythm. Edwards later presents a well-honed percussion solo that is both forward-looking and traditionally based.
Colligan has proven time and again he is a performer with a wide degree of style and achievement. On the M-base inspired "Venom" he unfurls an undiluted approach that includes varied solo interval leaps within a non-melodic, harmonically rich manner. The intensity level surpasses that on "Come Together," with pliant bass lines supplied by Kozlov and variegated chord sections provided by Colligan. The unedited shout as the cut comes to a rumbling climax captures the trio’s exhilaration of pulling off such a high-powered assault.
The flip side is the bluesy and witty ballad "So Sad I Had to Laugh." Here Colligan closes in on Bill Evans or Brad Mehldau terrain. Colligan develops the tune’s elegant sentiment with picturesque lucidity. The trio glows throughout: Edwards states a slow pulse via his careful brushwork while Kozlov holds an absorbing and thoughtful stance on his stand-up bass. As the piece ends, Kozlov glides into a melancholy mood with a stirring arco effect.
Another keyboardist who has influenced Colligan seems to be McCoy Tyner, at least that is the presumption from hearing "To the Wall," a premium piece that echoes Tyner’s mix of avant-garde and modal changes. Colligan appears completely liberated while persevering a pin-point precision: his first solo is uniformly cogent but his second is extraordinarily enthralling. Not to be outdone, Kozlov executes an arco solo that is utterly emotive and cerebral: brains and beauty rolled into one endeavor.
One thing the ten tracks all have in common is unpredictability: from song to song, one never knows quite what to expect and that idea is fully explored on the record’s closing number, the aptly titled "Uncharted Territory." Colligan exhibits unusual scale progressions that emulate but do not copy Thelonious Monk. Colligan gradually evolves his bop-tinted block chords into dissonant and pounding shards that generate a contentious direction. But even as the trio heads toward the abyss as the eight-minute composition concludes, they reinforce the song’s rhythmic heartbeat: a swinging core that is never lost and acts as a navigation buoy that keeps the cacophony together.
There is much that is compressed into this collection. While fundamentally an acoustic jazz piano trio excursion, there are a lot of elements incorporated into the nearly 70 minutes, from fusion to funky flickerings, from bebop to blues, and polytonality to classical components. While some jazz projects are meant to be played in one sitting, Come Together goes down well in moderation: appreciate each impression one at a time and the whole becomes much more stimulating.
1. Come Together
3. Have No Fear
4. So Sad I Had to Laugh
6. The Shadow of Your Smile
8. Open Your Heart
9. To the Wall
10. Uncharted Territory
— Doug Simpson