Tim Collins – “Castles and Hilltops”


Tim Collins - "Castles & Hilltops"Lyricism is an ephemeral quality.  While it is very often expressed with a storyteller’s linearity… a statement of melody followed by travels outward, encountering new rhythms and harmonies and improvisations until achieving a final chapter that returns to the melodic home… it can be just as powerful a sensation when the musician’s story isn’t told so much as that it simply happens, an all-encompassing presence like an occurrence of nature, seemingly, from out of nowhere.

The music of vibraphonist Tim Collins is emblematic of this quality.  A musician who displays a healthy respect for a strong melody, he often reveals it more as an illusionist eliciting a grand image than a writer typing out the opening lines of a chapter.  Melodies fade into view and then gradually fall into obscurity.  They are very real and easy to grasp, and the method with which they’re presented is resplendent with pretty magics and tender care.

The pulse of Collins’ 2007 release Valcour could be most easily found in its groove.  Though some tracks certainly had a statuesque elegance, the album was most represented by its jaunty cadence.  On the other hand, with 2008’s Fade, the addition of a string trio and guitarist Charlie Hunter’s inimitable twang brought a strangely haunting ambiance to relatively chipper music, refracting melodic light into unusual forms and shapes.  For Collins’ 2011 release Castles & Hilltops, he captures the spirit of his two previous releases, and blends their preeminent qualities into a singular, new voicing, and provides it with his particular emergent lyricism.

Your album personnel:  Tim Collins (vibes), Danny Grissett (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), and Tommy Crane (drums).

Right from the outset, the quartet establishes the compositional rules of engagement.  “TNT” lays down a shifty groove, over which Collins lays fluttering vibe lines, thus creating even more rhythmic variation.  And whereas “Pond” is a meditative tune at heart, the dynamic rhythmic pattern maintains a brisk heart rate.

The multifaceted approach via percussion earns more dividends with “Army Brat.”  Riding the back of an insinuated groove while simultaneously spinning in place at increasing speeds, the quartet transforms what amounts to a straight-ahead tune into a montage of minor diversions and welcome distractions.

A neat little surprise on Valcour was Collins’ rendition of the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”  Collins covers two songs on his latest release.  The first is a rendition of Bjork’s “Anchor Song,” in which the quartet attains some lightness and elevation from the original’s folk song earthiness… Clohesy’s bass and Collins’ vibes flutter about one another with the hypnotic quality of fireflies on a Summer eve.  The other rendition is a cover of Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open.”  The quartet stays to the original’s melody, but gives the song a woozy late night presence… an impression less of Tom Petty and something more along of the lines of how Tom Waits might tackle the song.  Grissett’s sound on piano screams darkened bar, warm whiskey, and a mix of hopefulness and broken dreams.

“The Tunnel” is arguably the album highlight.  Led by Crane’s multi-pronged percussive attack, the quartet charges ahead with a staggered loping cadence that provides an illusory perpetual forward motion while building tension with some brief intervals of quick-witted retreats… not unlike how, at the right speeds, a swiftly spinning wheel can appear to reverse direction.  The album ends with a reprise of “The Tunnel,” in which the rhythmic attack is more direct and juxtaposed nicely over Collins’ swirling vibraphone eddies.

A solid album from an outstanding musician.

Released in 2011 on the Nineteen-Eight Records label.

Jazz from the Salzburg, Austria scene.

Download a free album track at AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artist and label.

Not available at (U.S.) Amazon or eMusic.  However, you can purchase the album directly from the label (linked to just above), and the prices of $7 for the download, $10 for the CD are very reasonable.


Some additional notes:

Eventually I’ll be publishing a review of both of Collins’ previous albums, Valcour and Fade, in the coming months.  You should also check out other entries for Tim Collins on this site… specifically two different entries in the These Are Videos That I Like series, in which Collins is performing live with his Hellgate Strings ensemble.  God help me if I ever see a Kickstarter campaign for Collins to record a full album with the Hellgate Strings ensemble… budget cuts will be made to help fund that thing.