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Sir Roland Hanna – Tributaries (Reflections On Tommy Flanagan)

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Detroit developed a burgeoning jazz scene following World War II, but like many midwestern urban centers, its lasting heritage is the string of Jazz Musicians it fed to the gravitational pull of New York City rather than the fruits of its own indigenous scene. Consider the effect on the Big Apple music scene had Milt Jackson, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, the Jones brothers (Elvin, Thad and Hank) and Kenny Burrell not gone East in the 50’s…

Sir Roland Hanna (Unlike ‘Duke’ Ellington and ‘Count’ Basie, ‘Sir’ was not a nickname, but an actual title, bestowed on him by the President of Liberia in 1970 for humanitarian efforts on behalf of that country!) was another Detroit native who made his mark in New York. He approached jazz from the classical tradition, having studied at Eastman and Julliard, then served with both Benny Goodman and Charles Mingus in the 50’s before concentrating on his own trio and a steady gig with the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis big band. A tenured professor at Queens College in New York, Hanna finished “Tributaries (Reflections on Tommy Flanagan)” just before his own sudden death in November 2002. (Flanagan had passed away the previous year.)

This Solo Piano CD begins and ends with Flanagan compositions. “Sea Change”, the opener, begins in a George Winston mood, then segues into a march tempo with unexpected harmonies and syncopation, relaxing again to the contemplative by the end. The closing “Delarna” sounds like a song with no words, putting me in mind of Bryan Ferry’s “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)” for some reason. Lyricism may be the dominant characteristic of the CD, reflecting, perhaps, Flanagan’s decade-plus spent as Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist, or Hanna’s own time spent with Sarah Vaughan.

Hanna’s take on Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born” seems to quote from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. If it’s good enough for Mozart, why not a 20th Century jazz composer? I wonder if this is intended to evoke a Christmas mood? Not quite the Vince Guaraldi Trio, this feels more like sitting back with a glass of egg nog and rum at midnight after the presents are finally wrapped and under the tree. In contrast, another Jones composition, “‘Tis”, features considerable energy, syncopation and dynamics.

Gershwin’s “Soon” has a nice angular, percussive feel under the melody. Further standards by Cole Porter and Mercer Ellington, and the chestnut “Body And Soul” are explored in a laid-back fashion, swinging melodically, with restrained dynamics, at medium tempos…

Illinois Jacquet’s “Robin’s Nest” is probably the most upbeat number on the disc. It’s easy to imagine a Forties or Fifties tenor sax quartet ripping through this one. Sir Roland flirts with a boogie woogie beat and keeps my toe tapping throughout.

Overall, this is not avant-garde or especially propulsive piano music, but melodic and elegant, with subtle variations in style and texture. A relaxing hour of late evening or weekend afternoon listening. My usual taste in piano players tends more to Professor Longhair and Glenn Gould, and while Hanna shares few obvious characteristics with that odd couple, he also steers clear of the overheated pounding with the sustain pedal that used to pass for dramatic romantic dynamism in the days before heavy metal. Overall, a worthy recording, and a fitting tribute to the memories of two fine musicians.

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