George Colligan Trio at Smoke 3/29/18 (by Brendan Polk)

PERSONNEL: George Colligan (piano), Buster Williams (bass), Lenny White (drums)

SETLIST: Run Around (Colligan), False Valse (Colligan), Ceora (Morgan), Voyage (Barron), Weightless, Rising Towards the Sun (Colligan), Body and Soul (Green), Usain (Colligan)

HIGHLIGHTS: Buster Williams! His walking strut and melodic solos were top drawer.

George Colligan has been playing with Buster Williams and Lenny White for years, usually in Williams’s own group Something More. Colligan comes out of the hard-hitting tradition of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, so naturally he is a perfect mesh for this veteran rhythm section known for associations with Hancock, Corea, and really everyone else from the 70s power jazz era. White challenged Colligan with rhythmic manipulations and the occasional metric modulation, while Williams’s immaculate stroll made the whole room swing.

Colligan’s “Run Around” was a kind of rhythmic and angular riff sent right into drummer territory. “False Valse” a pretty yet intense waltz with a vamp interlude: Colligan showcased dense and modal harmonies in huge chords while White subdivided the beat into doubles, triples, and plenty of dotted quarter notes.

Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” is almost too familiar at this point, but when someone like Buster Williams gets a chance to play it, it can still be a sublime experience. Williams played with Morgan and is a consecrated member of the Philadelphia tradition. Williams is not just a master accompanist but also a master of lyrical and melodic soloing. In only two choruses, he told a story using a series of singable, melodic statements that also displayed his unique and beautiful bass tone.

A hard swinging version of Kenny Barron’s “Voyage,” featured an exciting call and response section from Colligan and White. “Voyage” is perhaps not as well-known as “Ceora” but it has become Barron’s most-covered composition. Williams and White have both played with Barron, of course, and by programming this selection Colligan makes it extra clear what path his in.

On a medium tempo rendition of “Body and Soul,” Williams soloed first, again showing his sublime melodic sense. Colligan demonstrates impressive technique as a pianist, playing with a big sound and occasionally jumping into double time lines in his right hand. The virtuosity sat smoothly atop the amazing hook-up between William’s walking lines and White’s ride cymbal. The trio was sounding great.

“Rising Towards the Sun” was meditative and ballad-like, perhaps not to far from Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” and the night ended with the quickly paced “Usain” (named after Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt). The opening melody included four statements of a quick and frenetic phrase, a short modal vamp, and a repeated eighth note melody subdivided into groups of five. The following flurry of solos, along with committed support from Williams and tight cymbal work by White, left the room at Smoke in a blithe and electrified mood.

(by Brendan Polk)