Patuxent CD-222 John Colianni - On Target
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I don't know how many years ago it was. Probably somewhere in the 90's, that sort of "lost" decade, I opened for the great Mel Torme' in a lovely theater in downtown Stamford, Connecticut.
Mel was great--he was a Renaissance man--he was good early (growing up in Chicago, Mel, while still in High School, was composing, playing and arranging on a world-class level) and got better as his long career matured and continued to expand, plus he wrote standards, novels, even did ads for "Mountain Dew"--hey—he could do anything, and he did it well.
Mel had the good sense to get a good piano player for his performing band, and it was John Colianni. Now--when the same guy who sang "Sophisticated Lady" TO Duke Ellington in a club in New York and did it perfectly, without even breaking a sweat--chooses a young upcoming pianist, you know you're in the company of a cool, cool cat. That was Mel, and this is John.
John is not only "cool", but he's got energy to burn and chops that flare up into explosive note-clusters that boggle the mind. And he swings--he and his band--they swing, regardless of which triple somersault-withthree- and-a-half-twist arrangements they are doing.
And there's plenty of fancy arrangements on this record--they all have a charm of their own. I hate to pick one over any of the others, but "Fifty-Second Street Theme" really does it for me. It is so reminiscent of a recording I cherished in my salad days that featured the drumless Oscar Peterson Trio. It was Oscar, Ray Brown and Herbie Ellis on guitar and when I close my eyes and listen to the Colianni ensemble just kill that bad boy I'm reminded of the great continuity that jazz has--the late Jim Pepper once said to me: "a Pop record lasts for a season, but a jazz record is forever". How true.
This record, "On Target" is just that. Justin Lees has his work cut out for him here, what with the challenge of this project and he rises to that challenge and surpasses it. Very few guitarists could have done justice to John's book of tunes here, but John was right on target with Justin--he swings, he's fast, he's hip, he listens. You need that and more to run with "Johnny chops"--my nickname for Signore Colianni. The rest of the cats, Joe Friedman, rhythm guitar, Young Robert Wagner, bass, and Matt Fishwick on drums are solid and disciplined and I would venture to say that when this session was finished those guys were spent!
Please listen to John was he's alone on this outing--the poignant moments on "Ill Wind", "A Nightgale Sang in Berkeley Square"--these performance are reminiscent of the great pianists of yore who led the way to virtuosity--constellations like Oscar, "Fatha'" Hines, Art Tatum--they come to mind when John plays alone.
The great jazz tradition that developed, especially when jazz was the popular music of this country, around WWII, is fully intact here--check out, for example, "Jumpin' at the Woodside"--I can imagine living in that time period, listening to the great Big Bands on the radio--no raucous rap here, baby, just harmony, swingin' arrangements and the beautiful repitition of an intelligent jazz melody with variations--boy if that's not right on target, nothin' is.
This record is why jazz is timeless--John reached into a particular phase of the music and put his own contemporary stamp on it--the use of the two guitars, for example--brilliant move--this configuration solidified the sense of swing somethin' fierce. Peronally I have had great experiences with John--we've hit the bandstand on several occasions, including the Monday night Les Paul hits at Iridium and I'm so glad I met him. But friendship and all that good stuff aside, whenever we are slated to play, I make sure I practice a lot so I can keep up with this cat--John Colianni--he's the maestro di presto, he's a gentleman, and he's got a great future here with "On Target"--right in the bull's eye!
Orlando, Florida March 21, 2011