He was the drummer for Kerry Politzer’s great piano Jazz albums and was so again on his early 2015 release Risky Notion. He has developed a bass proficiency to go with all the keyboards, horns, percussion and now, with the release of Write Them Down (Resonant Motion RMI1502), he adds vocals and has written all the music and lyrics which he sings and plays. A complete solo recording.
The album opens with The Ice World. George is heard singing from the very outset. Aside from hearing him speak and introduce songs in concert, I had never heard his voice before. It is George on lead and backing vocals and, I confess, I was hooked. For the first time through the album I kept wondering who it is that George’s singing brings to mind. Finally, I had it! No one. He sounds likes no one.
Of course, his piano artistry is just phenomenal and always has been. His drumming is tight and deliberate. But we need to focus, for a moment, on his vocals. He delivers a cool, Jazzy vocal intonation that never loses definition and diction. In other words, Colligan is not puffing his own ego by taking on all parts. Far from it, he has taken on all the parts in order to maximize the delivery of his message and music. He knows how he wants each piece to sound and he guarantees its sound by his own artistry. As our grandmothers used to say, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” George has done it right.
So, on The Ice World, the tight piano and drum mix perfectly sets up what he wants to achieve with the lyrics and vocals. The lyrics are bright with imagery and the music adds the color and shade to present a striking picture.
You need to know, Write Them Down—the album—requires multiple listenings. The first couple of times through, it was the new Colligan vocals, as stated above, that grabbed me. Then listen to the piano, always a Colligan hallmark. Next for the drums, then the bass and horns. Yeah, you need to hear it that many times. Or, rather, you’ll just want to.
Get In Line follows with a nice layer of backing vocals behind the lead. The drums are exquisite and you can hear ever-so-slight influences, here and throughout the album, from George’s heroes like Jack DeJohnette and Lenny White. Colligan swings with the best of them.
The piano solo is vintage Colligan. Straight up and bright. And I really dug the lyrics and his delivery of them. Piano and drums steal the show, though.
That tight-fisted rouser is followed by Never Let Go, a longing hope for support and strength in the arms of another.
The maudlin desire is kept at bay by the tone and tempo. George knows how to write a mature, yet bright-eyed, song of belonging.
Write Them Down follows next. The electric keyboards and rim-playing on the drums create a snappy flair that makes for a tongue-in-cheek reverie of “possibilities” and “little schemes.” The pocket trumpet is a fine addition here, adding a whimsical touch to the feeling. Splendid artistry cloaked in great fun.
Beginning of the End is a lament for the end of western civilization but it is crafted within a rhythmic structure of Native American culture. He creates a cyclical view of history in his music while intoning the victory of commercialism over culture in his lyrics.
The bass is strident in keeping with the militaristic drums. Brass marching instruments take their place among the disintegrating esprit de corps. So well-written and performed.
The pace returns to up-tempo Jazz-Pop with I Don’t Have the Time. The chord changes are cool and, at times, unexpected. The theme is centered around what Colligan would do if he were the king, president, prime minister, emperor, supreme leader or generalissimo. He mixes noble aspirations with somewhat hedonistic impulses and musically shapes just such a world where he just doesn’t have the time for all of that.
Paradise is a slow-paced, fearful, look at what troubles may come and have come to so many. The organ wails quietly behind the pulse-pounding rhythms of bass and drums. It is heavy-laden with grief and fear of bereavement. And Colligan delivers it spot-on.
Magic Laughter is a welcome comic relief to the sadness that came before. It brings a sense of joy that alleviates the agony of Paradise. Listen to George’s intonation of “round” and “sound” as he delivers an intentionally nasal tone that heightens the levity of the piece. Colligan knows what he’s doing.
The instrumental interlude is exacting and exciting. He sings, “I would run and jump and slip and fall” and then creates the sonic image with a stumbling, crashing drum run that is guaranteed to bring a smile. This is a cheerful, hopeful piece of beautiful whimsy.
The album concludes with I Would Be Nothing Without You. It is the most soulful piece on the album. The electric piano is the perfect choice to go with the soul vocals. The bass and drums are forward-leaning R&B and Colligan, again, pulls off the vocals with great aplomb.
Write Them Down is the next evolutionary step for George Colligan the artist, the composer, the thinker. It is an album for those who don’t want their musical heroes to stand still and just keep repeating what they have been doing for the last 50 years. For George Colligan, Write Them Down is yet another surge into the unknown, filling with sound what was once a void.
Yeah, I’m a George Colligan fan.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl