Romain Collin ‘Press Enter’ CD (ACT) 5/5

romain-collinIn the crowded field (though not overcrowded – it could never be that) of piano trio releases, it is rare to come across an album that successfully delivers a unique voice. New York-based Frenchman Romain Collin does just that with his third album (and his debut for ACT) “Press Enter”. Collin moved to New York in 2001 to take up a scholarship at Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music. He was later accepted into the highly coveted masters program at The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in LA. On returning to New York the young pianist made a name for himself recording alongside the likes of John McLaughlin, Mike Stern and Christian McBride. Whilst touring Vietnam and India with his mentors Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Collin reflects on a conversation with Shorter; “We had a discussion about having big plans, in life, or in music – but oftentimes not really acting upon them. Wayne then paused and said to me “Press Enter!”. Then he left… But that stayed with me.” The interesting thing with this album is the fact that this trio are producing music that is both melodic and lyrical, making for an immediate emotional and positive impact on first experience. However, from the second play onwards the listener is rewarded with its wonderful hidden depths. At its heart is an extraordinarily talented pianist, yet in many ways, it is Collin’s intelligent and inventive post-production skills aligned with the formidable performances from his fellow musicians that make this recording more than the sum of its parts. Drummer Kendrick Scott is on fire, bringing stimulation and exhilaration in equal measure. Bassist Luques Curtis glues it all together with a skilful balance and precision. In addition to Romain Collin’s piano, sound design and programming, there are also several guests on selected tracks. Again this is where the band leader excels, utilising the added instruments, whether it be guitar, voice or cello, as an integrated part of the composition. Collin exhibits a crystal clear vision with his music and no matter what style or form that might take, there is a beautiful natural cohesive quality to it all, each and every moment in time/space/sound being one to cherish.

“Press Enter” opens with the anthemic “99”, a short, stunning piece that wastes no time in creating a landscape for the rest of the album to build upon. If Hot Chip, Einaudi, Ben Folds and Led Zeppelin met up as a quartet to perform jazz, this might be something close to the outcome. The beguiling “Clockwork” exhibits the pianist’s compositional and performance skills perfectly, at times reminding this listener of the stunning yet playful nature employed by pianist Brad Mehldau. Light and breezy on the topside, deep and meaningful underneath. With its enveloping lyricism, “Raw, Scorched and Untethered” could be Esbjorn Svensson Trio at their peak. Much of Collin’s music has a filmic essence to it, partly due to the nature of his writing, but also in the way he uses instruments and voices as distant soundscapes and textures. “Holocene (Justin Vernon)” is a prime example with its subtle use of Grey McMurray’s guitar. This lullaby achieves an exquisite simplicity thanks to Collin’s sound manipulation and programming. In contrast, “The Kids” is a lively, bouncy piece featuring Jean Michel-Pilc on whistles. Again though, the added sounds are never overworked, always intelligently used to either reinforce melody or add colour. A much darker tone is felt with “Webs”, with Laura Metcalf’s haunting cello being used more prominently to help create an underground orchestrated feel. From these depths, the atmosphere is then stripped right back with “San Luis”, a simple folk tune that resonates with its stark, lonesome beauty. Imagine a Wild West ghost town with the prairie wind gently blowing its memories out of focus. “Event Horizon” is perhaps the most surprising piece on the entire album. It is the artist’s mini-masterpiece. Reminiscent of Nitin Sawhney’s magnus opus “Beyond Skin”, we hear spoken words fading in and out from the foreboding music. The title was inspired by the stories of wrongfully convicted men whose voices and testimonies we hear throughout the piece. “The Line (Dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being)”, picks up on the mood and drives it onwards with a repeating motif that gradually builds, wave upon wave of profound intensity. For the closing track, Collin’s solo piano brings a yearning, ethereal, other-worldly quality to Monk’s “Round About Midnight”. A fitting end to an album of divine substance.

Mike Gates