George Colligan: Living for the City

Pianist George Colligan’s Living for the City, a record of jazz, rock and soul standards, is spotty. It’s not thoroughly inconsistent; Colligan’s power trio (bassist Josh Ginsburg and drummer E.J. Strickland) is unrelenting in its virtuosity, vigor and pursuit of advanced harmonies. But the music, though sometimes cogent and inspired, can also be unfocused and self-indulgent.

That’s clear from the opening “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” a 72-bar arrangement on which Colligan has a nearly full-chorus intro, then two solo choruses. All of it is lengthy and repetitious without any real trajectory. Similarly, the 7/4 take on “Keep Me Hanging On” develops largely into vamping and predictable licks. Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is built on what Colligan’s liners call “a subtle reharmonization”-so subtle it’s barely noticeable-and very static improvisation.

Reined in, however, the results are stunning. “Water Babies” is done sotto voce (including Strickland’s Tony Williams-worthy cross rhythms), with a beautiful and careful solo from Ginsburg and a Colligan flight that always keeps its ear to the tune. Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” is a tour de force for the rhythm section, and the pianist shows his ingenuity with a mood-darkening minor-chord motif. The highlight, however, is Eddie Harris’ soul-jazz classic “Cold Duck Time.” Grooving on a rough-and-tumble bassline, it features a Colligan solo that develops his repetitions rather than merely spinning them, and a melodically developed solo from Strickland that is among the drummer’s finest recorded work. Let’s hear more of Colligan keeping it funky.