Apr 5 2014
So, The North opens up Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland) as a nice enough modern piano trio recording. Easy-to-like melodies come out strong with a firm handshake and wide smile, and rhythms maintain a nice conversational chatter… nothing that gets too intricate as to incite a cerebral reaction and nothing too agitated as to become cluttered with unnecessary inflections and personal tics. And that’s how it proceeds for the first three tracks on this debut album of the trio of Romain Collin, Shawn Conley, and Abe Lagrimas, Jr.
But then fourth track “Join Us Jackson” begins, and the trio suddenly takes it down a gear, and they express their thoughts with a greater care, taking time to draw out the totality of the melody one breath at a time. It creates a provocative shift, though nuanced it may be, and from there, this likable recording really settles in.
Your album personnel: Romain Collin (piano), Shawn Conley (bass), and Abe Lagrimas, Jr. (drums).
“Join Us Jackson” has the satisfying brevity of a well-crafted pop tune, delivered with the solemn thoughtfulness of a gospel blues. Brushes insinuate a swaying motion, punctuated by the occasional tap of sticks. Piano brings the small but intense light of a brightly burning candle in darkness, with a slowly unwinding melody as a plume of smoke rising up from its flame. Bass is the shadow that accentuates the melody’s shape and direction. This is when the trio stamps their mark on the album.
“Dowsett Avenue” moves at a casual pace, too, though the soulful melody asks, and receives, a bit of a groove to bounce ideas off of, resulting in a slow shuffling cadence, nice and easy. The rendition of Monk’s “Light Blue,” as it turns out, is an odd transition piece from “Dowsett Avenue,” a contrast in styles though not necessarily of expression… the blues speak up on both, and the exaggerated stagger of “Light Blue” is an interesting shift from the casual stroll of the previous track. Unfortunately, it clashes with the album’s overall progression and stands out all by its lonesome… the kind of thing that cracks a recording built on a foundation of thoughtful melodic expressions.
This contrast becomes further evidenced by “Yann’s Flight,” which returns to an introspective state, even as it occasionally bursts into evocative form. The cover of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is made a melancholy little jingle. Collin wraps himself tightly around the melody, and the resulting sound of how it shifts and settles in his embrace illustrates how a little change can go a long way, and how simple sublime statements resonate just as powerfully as the most bombastic displays of sonic force.
“Northern Dreams” broods like mad. Piano and drums slowly pace the room while bass arco whips around them, warping notes… the insinuation of a melody only secondary to establishing a mood. It’s an approach that works well when sandwiched between the gratifying melodic treatment offered up by the Dylan cover and the album-closer “Stay With Me,” a love song that expresses as much heartbreak as it does hope… a sublime ending to an album that has many such moments.
The album is Self-Produced, released on the trio’s label Dowsett Records.