There is a track on Press Enter, jazz pianist Romain Collin’s second album with his trio with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Kendrick Scott, named “Clockwork”. Just the name alone is a superb description of Collin’s music, an interlocking hybrid of post-rock and piano trio jazz similar in style but different in scope to The Bad Plus. Getting to know his music on a personal level is not unlike cracking open a clock to witness the intricacies within. It’s true that gears and springs don’t exactly “swing”, but they have a beauty all their own that doesn’t need the aide of freewheeling bop solos to help drive the point home. Press Enter is an impressive little album that is able to grab your attention firsthand simply by avoiding clichés. After that, it’s heavy, pounding tunefulness all the way down to the Monk cover.
“‘Round About Midnight” is where the trend ends. Nine of Press Enter‘s tracks are Romain Collin originals occasionally enhanced by an additional musician here and there. The last track is the Thelonious Monk tune and Romain Collin treats it more somberly than probably anyone else has, even the tune’s author. This rendition, performed solo, is the soundtrack to a lonely vagrant freezing to death on the sidewalk on a sub-zero winter’s night. Monk’s ornamentation doesn’t take a backseat here; it steps out of the car completely. Speaking from a surface perspective, this and the mournful “Holocene (Justin Vernon)” are Press Enter‘s sore thumbs. Coming from the corner of the listener’s brain that seeks variety, it’s a welcome change from the originals that may strike the conservatively-minded listener as dispassionate. Form a purely aesthetic viewpoint, it shows that Romain Collin can bake a pretty cake and eat it too.
Back to the top of the album, “99” rolls out with a sense of purpose. A syncopated chime in the right hand augmented with the wandering chords of the left hand is enough to let anyone know that Romain Collin’s trio is not the usual jazz act. As the rhythm section enters, that notion is only reinforced. Programmed synth burbles from Collin and abstract, wordless vocals from Megan Rose put the album’s first two minutes in that lovely little grey area where the fraternal twins of rock and jazz are sometimes mistaken for one another. The wonderfully unorthodox approach goes strong, through Jean-Michel Pilc’s three note whistle on “The Kids” and the dramatically delivered “The Line (Dividing Good and Evil Cuts Through the Heart of Every Human Being)”. “Event Horizon” briefly shifts the spotlight away from the trio by incorporating soundbites from The Innocence Project, an organization working to help free the wrongfully convicted from prison. The heavily treated monologues aren’t exactly miniature podcasts packed with revelations. They are another instrument. Collin’s treatment of their stories neither hurts nor helps their experiences.
Romain Collin claims that the album’s title came from a piece of blunt advice given to him by Wayne Shorter. Apparently, the two words became a mantra between the two when it came to action. Don’t think, just do. Press enter. This direct attitude would have you believe that Press Enter came with plenty of rough edges and little refinement. Not so, though. Romain Collin’s music has just the right mix of care and action to make it sturdy and unique in the long run.
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