Roland Hanna, one of the most flexible pianists of any generation, is heard to greatest advantage in the most basic of musical situations: unaccompanied. Since his arrival in New York in the Fifties, Hanna has acquitted himself with individuality and aplomb in contexts as disparate as the Benny Goodman big band and Charles Mingus’s experimental groups. While Hanna can make lovely solo flights and contribute meaningfully to bands, he also shares with such distinguished colleagues as Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Barry Harris – to mention some fellow-Detroit emigres – a superb gift for providing even the most diverse artists with sympathetic accompaniment. Unlike his aforementioned colleagues, however, Hanna’s strongest musical antecedents are in the two-fisted “orchestral” tradition of his instrument. Jones, Flanagan and Harris have pared their solo styles to leave room for a bassist and drummer, but Hanna – though perfectly capable of fine work in such a setting – has such a finely-tuned sense of time and Rock- of-Gibraltar left hand that he is able to create without assistance performances of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic interest. In so doing, and without resorting to imitation, he skips musical generations in concept, and echoes the stride pianists of the Twenties and Thirties.
Usually operating alone, they were expected to generate music that was both varied and swinging. Except for Duke Ellington’s Everything but You, all the tunes in this album are Roland Hanna originals and the fact that he is a composer of considerable talent is only icing on an already deli- cious cake. Sampling this particular slice of that cake, I am especially struck by Hanna’s ability to extract a full-ringing tone from his instrument at all tempi, and by the fact that he is capable of generating unflagging swing while creating the most lyrical mood. If you are a Roland Hanna fan, you probably know that he was knighted in 1970 by President William Tolber Tubman of Liberia, and it is therefore quite appropriate that at least two knightly virtues, Elegance and Grace, permeate Sir Roland’s music in this album.
[ill Farrar, (WBA1-FM, New York, March, 1980)]