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Romain Collin: Unearthing A Sound

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: You went to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in 2004 and you seem to have had an incredible array of teachers and mentors. For example, keyboard players Larry Goldings and Russell Ferrante; bassists Ron Carter and Charlie Haden; pianist Mulgrew Miller; trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; saxophonists Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano; the list goes on. And yet there seems to be little of the language of jazz that you might associate with these players—bebop, hard bop, straight-ahead, the American idiom—in your playing. Would you care to comment on that?



RC: Yeah, you know, what's interesting with the Monk Institute is that each and every one of these masters had something different to offer. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard was the Artistic Director and he pushed us to write all the time, to dig deep into our own heart and soul. Absorbing the history, absorbing the vocabulary was very important, because it's part of what we do and what we are a part of, but he pushed us to develop our own thing. To be quite frank, I don't think about it. When I sit down at the piano I just try to write what I hear in my head. I can't really put it any other way.

If I play a bebop line I play it's because I really hear it, but not because it's a bebop line and think it should be part of the piece. If I don't I don't. It's very important to be honest. Whatever comes out comes out. You have to play what you really hear and feel, and that's what I try to do. It's an interesting question. The New York tradition I really love; I have incredible respect for all the great bebop giants, for [pianists] Bud Powell and Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson...but when I sit down at the piano that's not necessarily what comes out.

AAJ: When you graduated from the Monk Institute you went on a tour of Vietnam and India with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter; what are your recollections of that trip? That's one to tell the grandchildren about, no?

RC: Sure. It was a tour of about three weeks and it wasn't just that you got to share the stage with them once in a while; it was getting to see them and understand them and know them a little better as people. They are obviously very intelligent and deep personalities with very strong energy. They're very interesting people. To learn from them and to be inspired by them was very special. Spending hours on a bus talking about just about everything, and visiting Agra and the Taj Mahal together was a pretty unique opportunity. It's an experience I shall certainly cherish and I feel very honored and privileged to have been part of.

AAJ: Coming back to The Calling, the CD opens with "Storm," which is short, punchy and devoid of soling; why did you choose to open with this track?

RC: The first record that I did had a much more mellow vibe to it and I wanted something which was opposite to that. I wanted something that as soon as you put it on you should get an idea of what is left to come. There's a bit of post-production, there's a little bit of guitar blended into the background and I felt it announced what was to come. I like honesty, and it was my way of saying this is what you're going to get.

AAJ: You've already talked about the Mayer composition "Stop this Train," but it's such a minimalist interpretation with just yourself and the faintest of percussive support from Scott that it begs the question whether you'd considered just doing it as a solo piece?

Mysterious Voyages—A Tribute to Weather ReportRC: Yes, I had actually. That's a great question. It totally fits the solo piano context and I have played it solo. It's a great solo piece and I love doing it. It allows for even more freedom.

AAJ: The CD has crystal-clear sound quality, it has a depth to it and it also has a warmth. It's a great job production-wise. Would you like to talk a little about the production team?

RC: Matt Pierson oversaw the whole making of the record—how to construct it, the choice of musicians, the order of the compositions, things like that. All the post-production and sound designing I did myself. The trio spent two or three days in the studio and then I spent about two weeks at home adding all the other textures that you hear and stuff that you can barely hear. I wanted the listener to be able to pinpoint what has been added. Then Nicolas Farmakalidis went on to mix the record after the post-production and refined some of the sounds and sonic moods that I was going for. As always, he did a great job. I'm really glad you described the overall sound of the record the way you did. I feel flattered that you've recognized all the elements that I was reaching out for—that warmth and clarity. The sound is very, very important.

Romain CollinAAJ: There are a couple of tracks on the CD—"Greyshot" and "Aftermath"—that have an elegiac, almost hymnal quality, particularly on the latter. Has church music influenced you much?

RC: I love church music, and when I say church music I'm not only talking about gospel music—which I absolutely love—but also church music in the baroque sense, which I also love. I love Bach's chorals. It has certainly been a great influence on my music and my writing. The sound really moves me and it's a very important part of what I do. I'm glad you asked me that because these are tunes that people don't mention too much, but those are sounds that I relate to strongly emotionally.

AAJ: The closing track, "One Last Try" is an absolutely gorgeous, melodic composition. Was that the obvious closing tune from the outset for you? How did this tune come to you? RC: It came to me very easily and quickly. I just sat down at the piano and I pretty much improvised it from beginning to end, about 90% of it. Then I just fine-tuned little things here and there but it worked out pretty organically. As for it being the last track on the record, yeah. It stops time a little bit and I felt that it would be strange to have this track followed by anything. I like records that tell a story and make you feel as though you've been on a journey and in that sense it's very important to program tunes the right way. It's an interesting contrast to the opener and I thought it was a nice way to end the journey.

AAJ: It's a great journey. Are you touring to support the The Calling? What are your upcoming plans?

RC: I've been touring for the record quite a bit in the States and in Europe and I'll be doing more touring in the States and again in Europe later in the year. It's a great privilege to be able to play to an audience. I always give it 100% and give it all my energy. It's really exciting to perform with the trio and I'll keep doing it.

Selected Discography

Romain Collin, The Calling (Palmetto Records, 2012)

Romain Collin, The Rise and Fall of Pipokhun (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2009)

Tony Grey, Unknown Angels (Obliqsound, 2009)

Robby Marshall Group, Living Electric (RMG,2008)

Thelonious Monk Institute Band, Nothing But Love (TMIJ,2007)

Various Artists, Mysterious Voyages—A Tribute to Weather Report (ESC Records, 2005)

Tony Grey, Moving (Self Produced, 2004)

Photo Credit
Page 1: Ingrid Hertfelder

Pages 2, 3: Simon Yu

Page 4: Ingrid Hertfelder
About Romain Collin
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