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Romain Collin: The Rise and Fall of Pipokuhn

Phil DiPietro By

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Romain Collin ushers in the promise of 2009 with an astonishingly mature and ambitious debut that secures him a placeholder in the continuing evolution of the grand tradition of the piano trio. While staking claim to the lineage of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau, Collin's work favorably contrasts to the modern-day Swedish school exemplified by the au-courant subset of Bobo Stenson, Esbjorn Svennson, and Tord Gustavsen.

While European sensibilities and restraint dominate his concept and legitimate classical performance skills (he won the Valmalete competition at 13) and dynamics inform his crystalline touch, Collin's sense of time and swing indicate that he has prioritized an indefatigable approach to absorbing the American jazz tradition. Now 29, Collin's obviously apportioned the reverence required; restated: there's no fronting, because there has been no shortcutting.

The same might be said of his trio-mates, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer/tablaist Zach Harmon, both 24. All three were recently minted from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, as true a master's apprenticeship as any collegiate program; this fellowship, after all, requires getting past Herbie Hankcock and Wayne Shorter.

Collin has also taken the giant step—one that could easily have been a giant misstep—of composing a suite of songs loosely based on his imaginary series of vignettes titled to invoke the struggles of man. The illustrated insert reveals that the vignettes are inspired by the struggles, mostly in the mind, of a child (our protagonist Pipokuhn). "The Lost Wife," for instance, can be heard as the weight of lost relationships or alternatively as depicting the boy's loss of a special kite. Both scenarios could be painted by the rubato wind-dance of Collin's counterpoint, Sander's bow, and Harmon's cymbals, especially when Collin's linearity rescues the literally screaming impulse to break free from sorrow's hold.

"Maui" is a twist on Svennson's evolution of Jarrett's folk songs, prodded by Harmon's deft transitioning from kit to tabla. The emotive melodic figure is extemporaneously ornamented from the first measure, yet retained almost throughout. As Collin's ensemble work fully transitions to the solo, featuring breakneck yet refined single-note lines full of chromaticism yet devoid of bop, which he builds upon while simultaneously interrupting with chordal crescendos, the uncommon level of experienced, mature virtuosity that permeates this session reveals itself.

The "Fight Behind the Great Wall" is depicted, again on multiple levels, by an illustration of the boy in the storyboard behind a smiley mask. It's all raw emotion, beginning in dissonant melancholia, moving through turbulent passages into sparkling light. Tabla is used here in the song's middle, in conjunction with a flawlessly executed piano loop, to catalyze musical transformation mirroring the metaphorical, transforming the internal push and pull to a steely, forward-looking, revelatory sense of resolve.

It's no stretch to posit that the concept-album element represents Collin's own development from boy to man—musically and otherwise. That said, this recording exceeds qualifiers of merit usually reserved for debuts. Collin's refined aesthetic has wrought an exceptional musical realization of a personal, yet universal, journey.

Track Listing: Ashes and Snow; Maui, Hawaii; The Fight Behind the Great Wall; The Giant Scam; The Lost Wife; Onward, Upward; The Traveler; The Rise and Fall of Pipokuhn.

Personnel: Romain Collin: piano; Joe Sanders: bass; Zach Harmon: drums, tabla, percussion; Gilad Ronen: flute (1).

Title: The Rise and Fall of Pipokuhn | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

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