John Colianni wasn't even sure of his onstage colleagues' names when he counted in the first tune, C Jam Blues. Fortunately this Ellington classic is at every jazz musician's fingertips and off the quartet went as if they'd already been on tour, rather than starting this one, which sees them play the Unicorn in Dundee tonight and Whighams Jazz Club back in Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon.
Jazz aficionados - and music lovers generally - who can make either of these two gigs would be well advised not to miss them because the music over two sets here was played with flair and feeling and generated no little excitement. Colianni is no stranger to these parts. A pianist with a keen, superbly fluent and stylish attack, he's been visiting from New York since the late 1990s. His time spent with Mel Torme furnished a story about the singer's liking for changing arrangements spontaneously and Colianni illustrated his suitability for such a job by inviting guitarist Kevin Mackenzie and bassist Jay Kilbride to choose tunes in between calling his own choices and pointing an imperious finger at the musician whose turn it was to solo next.
Mackenzie played with bluesy ease on standards including Just Friends and Speak Low and Kilbride maintained a groove and improvised with aplomb as Colianni displayed brilliant bebop chops and humorous touches that saw Body & Soul segue effortlessly from Chinatown to Dixie. The pianist's exchanges with drummer Alyn Cosker, on typical imaginative-energetic form, were especially noteworthy, adding fire to a tight, warm understanding that belied the brevity of their relationship.