Manhattan Comes To Rottingdean

DBeckett

Unexpected pleasures are the best, even for jazz fans, and what could be more unexpected then to climb the stairs to a function room above a Rottingdean pub on a dark blustery evening and find George Colligan sat at the upright piano? The New Jersey-born, Portland resident has established a formidable reputation; alongside his other gigs as an educator, drummer and trumpeter he’s built up a recorded legacy over the course of 20 albums as a leader, demonstrating his chameleonic ability as the kind of contemporary uber-pianist who’s equally at home playing bop, free, classical fusion or funk. His latest trio release featured heavyweight veterans Lenny White and Buster Williams; sadly they aren’t here at The Plough tonight, but their vacancies are ably filled by a pair of outstanding players from across the Irish sea. Dave Redmond wrestles manfully with a borrowed bass, and the man behind the borrowed kit, Darren Beckett (pictured), is the mastermind behind tonight’s unexpected treat; leaving his native Ulster for Manhattan as a New School student he played with Colligan when they both worked as busy faces on the city’s notoriously competitive jazz scene; as a new resident on the South Coast he’s brought his old mates over, and here they are tonight, smashing out some high-octane post-bop to a handful of lucky aficionados as the pub’s regulars enjoy their midweek pints downstairs. 

Colligan strikes up the line of ‘Take The Coltrane’, the rhythm section answer the call, and we’re off on a rollercoaster musical journey, with the whole band delivering on the bebop verities while sedulously avoiding cliches. Colligan’s right-hand speed and sureness are exemplary – a favourite trick is to double the time, then double it again into effortless waterfalls of notes; the language pushing at the harmonic frontiers but always logically rooted in the bop heritage. The hits on ’Alter Ego’, by one-time mentor and pianist’s pianist James Williams, are delivered with accuracy; jam-session chestnut ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ is creatively reimagined as a ballad, with a nicely judged melodic feature for Redmond, while Shorter’s ‘Yes And No’ is a vehicle for Beckett to show his mettle in a prodigious solo that rattles the windows. After a brief break we’re back for a set of Colligan originals; ‘Again With Attitude’ swings like the clappers in 4/4 and a new number grooves just as hard in 5, there are ingenious contrafacts and an affecting paternally themed ballad (‘Daddy Go Bye Bye') before the final flourish; ‘Usain’ is dedicated to Mr Bolt and captures both his speed and his flamboyance in a frenetic drums-piano duel. Such a sparely attended, under-the-radar session might engender a casual approach, and the vibe in the room is naturally relaxed and informal, but the minute the music starts all three players are utterly committed, delivering with the focus and intensity you’d expect from a festival stage or hallowed jazz club, rendered all the more special by its modest setting.

Eddie Myer
Photo by David Forman

 

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