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Colors from a Giant's Kit

Sir Roland Hanna

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Album Review

Sir Roland Hanna is one of several giants of piano who emerged from Detroit, though he tends to be overlooked in comparison to Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan. This posthumous CD collects bits and pieces of several solo sessions from late in his career, interpreting standards and noteworthy jazz works by others, in addition to his stunning originals. "Colors from a Giant's Kit" serves as a brief, rousing opener, followed by the lush, meditative ballad "Natalie Roseanne." Hanna revisits his moving, majestic "A Story Often Told But Seldom Seen," which conjures imagery without visual aids, along with his inventive "20th Century Rag," an elaborate work that pays respects to the past without being in danger of sounding old-fashioned due to its rich harmonies. His richly textured setting of John Coltrane's "Naima" shimmers, while his rendition of the saxophonist's "Moment's Notice" ranks alongside the interpretations by McCoy Tyner. Hanna's spry take of Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" projects a big band all by itself. His dramatic arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" makes it seem like an orchestration for a film soundtrack, then he brightens "Chelsea Bridge" a bit to remove some of the melancholy injected by its composer. Hanna's explorations of standards are every bit as satisfying. He sets up "My Romance" with an elaborate, disguised introduction, leading into a brilliant, lyrical performance (though the Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart standard is misattributed to Victor Young/Ned Washington). Ray Noble's "Cherokee" is one of the most recorded standards, yet Hanna finds a fresh approach with a subtle introduction that suggests George Gershwin, gradually building the tempo to a feverish pitch as he incorporates novel variations. One can only hope that IPO still has additional, unissued recordings by Sir Roland Hanna in its holdings to follow up this masterful salute to one of the greats of jazz piano.

Customer Reviews

From MainlyPiano

"Colors From A Giant’s Kit" is an incredible collection of fourteen original and arranged piano solos recorded by the late Sir Roland Hanna (1932-2002). Calling this music jaw-dropping is a major understatement, for both the sheer joy of playing that permeates the music and the unbelievable chops Sir Hanna possessed. Although he was always interested in jazz, the young Roland Hanna also received classical training at Juilliard and Eastman Schools of Music. Along with being a solo performer, Hanna served as Sarah Vaughn’s musical director and was a regular member of The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, among a plethora of other gigs. He composed music in many genres, often combining jazz and classical elements into a style referred to as Classical Jazz. The music on this album covers a broad spectrum of music that clearly demonstrates Hanna’s versatility as well as his brilliant, unique musical vision. It is also interesting to note that Hanna was knighted in 1970 by then-President William V.S. Tubman of Liberia for humanitarian services to that country.

"Colors From A Giant’s Kit" begins with the title tune, a piece that exudes joy and a playful nature as Hanna’s nimble fingers dance all over the piano. Complex rhythms and harmonies send this piece soaring skyward. “Natalie Rosanne” is much more classical and subdued with a gorgeous, heartfelt melody that seems to speak of love in a hymn-like style. Next up is the 9-minute “A Story, Often Told But Seldom Heard.” Deeply emotional in nature, this piece is a perfect example of Hanna’s Classical Jazz. Improvised passages are woven throughout the more classical structure of the piece, telling a story of many layers and colors - an amazing piece! “Robbin’s Nest” is the first of the arrangements (as opposed to originals), but Hanna effortlessly makes it his own. Bright, rhythmic, and full of energy, this is jazz piano at its best. Hanna gives the jazz standard, “My Romance,” an elegant, classical touch that contrasts beautifully with the more effervescent pieces. Then along comes “Blues,” taking us in yet another direction - love it! “‘Cello” slows it down to a soulful and sensuous tempo - again very classical and deeply expressive. My favorite track is the wonderful “20th Century Rag,” a Hanna original. Performed at a leisurely tempo, the piece is playful and whimsical with a catchy melody that just won’t quit. I’ve ordered the sheet music and hope I can do it justice! John Coltrane’s “Naima” cools things down a bit, ever graceful and flowing. Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” closes the set with an infectious energy in a moderate tempo. Complex chords add to the “wow!” factor and leave the listener awed and ready to hit the “replay” button.

"Colors From A Giant’s Kit" is an amazing tour de force by one of jazz piano’s true masters. If you are new to Sir Roland Hanna’s music, as I was, this is a great place to start! I give it my highest recommendation!


Born: February 10, 1932 in Detroit, MI

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

A talented pianist with a style diverse enough to fit into swing, bop, and more adventurous settings, Roland Hanna was one of the last in an impressive line of great pianists who emerged in Detroit after World War II (including Hank Jones, Barry Harris, and Tommy Flanagan). After serving in the Army and studying music at Eastman and Juilliard, Hanna made a strong impression playing with Benny Goodman (1958). He worked with Charles Mingus for a period in 1959, and went on to generally lead his own...
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Colors from a Giant's Kit, Sir Roland Hanna
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