Jazz CD Reviews
Sir Roland Hanna, solo piano – Colors from a Giant’s Kit – IPO Recordings
Published on August 22, 2011
Sir Roland Hanna, solo piano – Colors from a Giant’s Kit – IPO Recordings IPOCD 1020, 65:44 ****:
Towards the end of pianist Roland Hanna’s life (he passed away in 2002), he struck a partnership with longtime fan and IPO label founder Bill Sorin. The result so far has been three releases: Everything I Love (2002), Tributaries: Reflections on Tommy Flanagan (released in 2003 but recorded just five months before Hanna suffered a fatal heart attack) and now Colors from a Giant’s Kit, which includes material put onto tape by producer Sorin during a couple of studio excursions Hanna had at varied time frames.
Hanna had a prodigious two-handed technique, and could be dexterous and quick or emotive and elegant, depending on what he played or what was needed. He was also both a keen interpreter and an expert composer. All of those traits are on display on the 14 tracks which make up this 65-minute outing.
Hanna brings five of his compositions to the proceedings alongside others by Duke Ellington, Illinois Jacquet, John Coltrane, Billy Strayhorn and a few more. The album opens with three Hanna originals. The brief title track has a sweeping style where Hanna uses robust chords to accentuate a rhythmic melody. The piece swaggers to a stop almost before it begins. During the majestic narrative “Natalie Rosanne” Hanna creates a character-driven sensitivity which has a nearly cinematic impression caused by his harmonic octave progressions and his subtle tempo changes which provide lucidity and expressive poignancy. Hanna’s gift for telling a musical tale blossoms on the likeminded “A Story, Often Told but Seldom Heard,” which can also be found on Hanna’s 1987 live document, Round Midnight. This lengthy number is also a sharp example of Hanna’s two-handed piano approach and ability to traverse various rubato and phrase alterations.
Hanna covers two Coltrane cuts. Hanna turns “Moment’s Notice” into a prominent but condensed exhibition where his fingers blur across the keyboard so swiftly that once again a listener is left with the thought it is all over nearly before it starts. On the other hand Hanna gives “Naima” a lovely lilt where the melody practically whispers in the ether. There’s an equal gracefulness to two of Strayhorn’s finest accomplishments, “Lush Life” and “Chelsea Bridge.” During “Lush Life” Hanna holds to a tender pace which lasts over seven minutes while he establishes a polished underpinning which impeccably conveys the famous theme. Hanna charts a comparable course during a shortened interpretation of “Chelsea Bridge.” While Hanna could have done the same with Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone,” ironically it is altered into a chipper jaunt full of élan and verve with just a hint of Hanna’s buzzing nonverbal vocalizations.
Other highlights demonstrate Hanna’s mastery of jazz history and feature the retrospective, traditionalist “Blues” and his original work “20th Century Rag,” adorned by a syncopated rhythm which evokes Scott Joplin and other ragtime pioneers. The program concludes with a decelerated translation of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” – which Hanna did in a quartet arrangement on his 1994 concert record This Time It’s Real – where Hanna proves the oft-performed classic can soar at any speed.
Tim Martyn’s engineering expertise should also be noted. He copiously captures Hanna’s detailed keyboard statements and furnishes the instrument an exquisite and sculpted sound which affirms Hanna’s technical facility as well as Hanna’s artistry and personality.
1. Colors from a Giant’s Kit
2. Natalie Rosanne
3. A Story, Often Told but Seldom Heard
4. Robbin’s Nest
5. My Romance
8. Moment’s Notice
9. Lush Life
10. 20th Century Rag
12. Chelsea Bridge
13. In a Mellow Tone
— Doug Simpson