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George Colligan: Isolation

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If the word “isolation” strikes you as a less than enticing title for a CD devoted to solo piano performances, some of the original pieces George Colligan has chosen for this collection-“Dead of Winter,” “Lonely Wind,” “Regret,” for starters-don’t exactly promise a sunny day in the park, either.

Still, on his 20th recording as a leader, Colligan creates a series of absorbing and multi-faceted vignettes. More often than not they possess a meditative quality. Melodies are introduced (and often sustained) in free time, resonating chords and chromatic flashes punctuate harmonically ambiguous passages, and spacious designs allow plenty of opportunities for Colligan to display his contemplative side, improvisatory prowess and beautifully honed technique. There are, however, bright and charming moments amid the soulful musings; Exhibit A being the quirky waltz “Simple Pleasures.” By contrast, “The Wrong Stuff” is a haunting, noirish portrait.

In the album’s liner notes, Colligan credits solo recordings by pianists Cedar Walton and Tete Montoliu for inspiring his appreciation of artists who have distinguished themselves in unaccompanied settings. Yes, risk-taking clearly appeals to Colligan. Several of the album’s highlights, whether newly composed or recently dusted off, illustrate how adept he is at moving beyond familiar harmonic schemes without losing his footing-or his audience. He may not have been prepared for solo performances when he was a struggling musician in Baltimore years ago, as he confesses in the liner notes, but what a difference two decades and countless gigs make.