The main impression created in these previously unreleased solo piano performances is one of monumental dimension. Tim Martyn's engineering fully captures Sir Roland Hanna's pianism, and that alone merits applause. The instrument sounds gorgeous primarily, of course, because of this artist's unique command of and personality at the keys, but to have the details and the sweep of his artistry captured this vividly is a great gift both to both to him and to us.
There are several original compositions by Hanna amid these 14 selections. Three of them open the album, individually and collectively conveying a regal presence. On the title cut, "Natalie Rosanne" and "A Story, Often Told But Seldom Heard," he makes an almost cinematic impact through octave processions, subtle rubato and the clarity, eloquence and emotional substance of his writing. These performances are not in the least about exhibitionism, but they do proclaim Hanna's presence as a fanfare heralding the arrival of royalty.
This impression sustains throughout each subsequent track. There is in fact no shortage of jaw-dropping moments: An electrifying, slashing two-handed lick ignites his take on Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," leading to a short but overwhelming exhibition that blazes by so quickly that one almost doubts that it actually happened. But Hanna makes the point through his music that technique goes way beyond the superficialities of being nimble and quick. He generally maintains a medium tempo and never strays far from the written theme, instead walking this line with a quality of nobility that speaks clearly for itself.
At all tempos, a powerful momentum animates Hanna's work, even though he rarely indulges in walking or stride bass. More often, he generates power through hand independence, amazing dynamic range and generous but never tasteless pedaling. The flavor of stride piano inhabits "Robbin's Nest" and "In AMellow Tone," not from any actual stride pattern but through Hanna's Fats Waller—influenced voicings within a freer rhythmic framework. Prefaced by an extemporized two-and-a-half-minute fantasia, "My Romance" becomes a monument to romanticism: Listen to his transition from the first to second verse, surging briefly into a higher key over a pedal tone before settling, feather-like, back into place. And on "Lush Life" Hanna's stately pace establishes a foundation that soars through stately articulation of the theme, which he illuminates in his solo, like fireworks over Manhattan.
This is thrilling stuff, make no mistake. Hard though it seems to hold the late Sir Roland Hanna in higher regard than he already is, these performances can only enhance his legacy.
These selections were recorded during the 1990s and as late as 2002 by IPO's Bill Sorin, before his label came into being. They showcase pianist Sir Roland Hanna, the label's first artist, at the height of his powers. Hanna's playing resonates with an authoritative, almost regal forcefulness yet it's also graceful. Despite his deft technique, he never sacrifices meaning for display, and there's a sense of joy and discovery at every turn—life-affirming melodic and harmonic richness, deep emotion without bathos. He begins Coltrane's "Naima" with a feel of coiled tension, which he then relieves by lessening the tautness of his focus, expanding from his initial narrow reading of the melody line into a broadened elaboration on the theme. His "Lush Life" isn't the world-weary lament of a soul old before his time, but a meditation on the joy that Billy Strayhorn's careworn after-hours poet was seeking in his dissolution. The sparkling clarity of Hanna's treble work and the richness of his chording bring a feel of hard-won tranquility to a piece most interpreters mine for its romantic resignation.
Hanna brings a sly trickster's wit to his own "'Cello," a meditative line brightened by unexpected angles and offshoots and enriched by an improvisation that once again radiates good humor with a regal presence. "Blues" is just that: a retrospective, through-the-eras travelogue through the development of this venerable root source of jazz. Hanna brings to bear the full arsenal of his technical and imaginative gifts, yet his playing is infused with an emotional immediacy that cuts to the core of blues expression. A balance of strength and soul this effective was remarkably rare, and makes Hanna's absence—he died in2002—all the more unfortunate.
Recorded over a number of sessions held in different years, "Colors From a Giant's Kit" (IPORecordings) is a lovely reminder what a supremely talented pianist Sir Roland Hanna (1932-2002) was throughout his long career. If you arrive at this recording expecting to hear purely jazz improvisations, you're in for a wonderful treat. The opening 3 tracks are Hanna originals and sound quite "modern classical." He certainly does "swing" on John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and shows a subtle side on Illinois Jacquet's "Robbin's Nest." Many listeners will be attracted to his "bravura" take on "Lush Life" and the gentle meditation he creates on "Naima." Intimate, heart-felt, and quite classy, this CD is a gem. For more information, go to www.iporecordings.com and dig around.
-- Step Tempest
“A miraculous issue of previously unreleased material.
“In this collection are presented five of Roland Hanna’s compositions, magnificent pieces, the beauty and originality of which are the measure of the pianist himself, truly breathtaking.
“The authenticity of belonging to the inside of a culture so old and powerful as jazz, to breath it, to live so naturally at its roots, to the point of expressing himself through a truly mastered language with his accents and the richness of his imagination, to know where he comes from and where he is going, that is to say the profound knowledge of jazz.”
-- Jazz Hot (France)
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