Music is a funny business. There are so many incredibly talented musicians that never get the respect they are due, and conversely there are a number of musicians of rather average ability who get way more than there 15 minutes of fame. On the front end of that equation is the incredibly talented jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna.
Born in the great jazz breeding ground of Detroit in 1932, he died in 2002. One of the most highly respected jazz pianists by his peers, he none-the-less was never given the media space his talents deserved. Whether it was because he didn’t actively seek out the limelight or other factors, now, isn’t really relative. The recorded legacy we have of his incomparable empathetic comping behind soloists, the incredible warmth of his ballad playing, and his ability to caress lines yet at the same time fully articulate complex chords and harmonies is forever available on a number of great recordings.Colors From A Giant’s Kit is both a great and subpar recording. The sound is atrocious, by today’s standards. It truly sounds like it was recorded the same way undergraduate classical collegiate recitals were recorded in the 1970s; big recital hall and a pair of crosshatched mics hanging from the ceiling.
The playing, on the other hand, is sublime. Hanna in a solo capacity was a rare delight when he was alive, and that we get to hear him in this format now, so many years since his death, is a rare treat indeed. Rollicking through 14 different tunes, all the humor, monstrously large harmonic palettes and quick agility of his bebop background comes forth in aces throughout this recording.There are simply no highlights on this disc as every track is great. Two examples will amply demonstrate this fact. The Illinois Jacquet “Robbin’s Nest” is both contemplative and fancy free. Interjecting single bebop lines in the right hand against a variety of stride influenced left hand chordal figurations only wets the palette for more.
“Cherokee” gets a totally original introduction that could only come from the mind of Hanna. The off kilter rhythms and miss-accents, ala “Monk,” lead into a reverential slightly gospel-influenced down-tempo reading of the melody that at times seems to quote “Georgia.” After this the tempo is energized, but only slightly, as the miss-accentuations of the introduction are reintroduced before giving way to some odd-meter chords which are themselves wiped from existence by post bebop stylings. And all of this happens within the first 3 minutes, with four more minutes of crazily enchanting side roads and vectors still to come.For those who want to hear what true giants can accomplish when left to their own means, this recording is a must, just be prepared to feel like you’re in a cavernous room with way too much reverb.