Through delectably fluid lines and beautiful unison playing, the North debut strong with Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland). The trio based in Hawaii takes to the record with a shared love of Oahu’s North Shore and a cohesive sound that flows like an island breeze through what’s presented here.
Consisting of pianist Romain Collin, bassist Shawn Conley and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr., the North picks things up with a sense of togetherness seldom heard. “The North is a band, not just a piano trio,” confirms Conley. “And our love of music from a wide variety of genres binds us. We are trying to make music that’s as engaging and fun to listen to as it is for us to create.”
Indeed, Slow Down hits on this well. Whether the product of the band’s devotedness or the three-week period in 2012 when the record took shape, the fruits of the North’s labor shine bright in the sun. There’s a cordiality to the pieces that can’t be feigned and a sway to the melodic core that can’t be replicated in a lab.
Things begin with “Great Ocean Road,” an undulating number that is built in large part on the attuned brushwork of Lagrimas Jr. He lays a foundation for Collin’s lean ivory phrases, providing the momentum for a fashioning of vibrant colors and warmth. The piece builds like a wave until its inevitable break.
Other tunes find the band walking a more raucous path, like “Humpty Dumpty” with its shifting strokes and floods of activity. The Chick Corea tune moves through various paces, starting with a cry of bow-playing by Conley and bumping Collin’s resilient phrasing and Lagrimas Jr.’s robust drumming to forge a zigzagging potboiler. Monk’s “Light Blue” offers a Hawaiian flavor atop some serious blues chops. Once again, Collin is sublime. His playing dips and bends in all the right places, constructing the forthright blues drive and stretching it out to make room for more unpredictable tempo shifts.
It stands to reason that Collin would fuel these sorts of adventurous attacks, what with an impressive resume that includes graduation from the Thelonious Monk Institute in 2007 and appearances with the likes of Wayne Shorter and Jimmy Heath. His two albums as a leader illustrated his sense for the story, but his work with the North really punctuates his ability to fit in with a band. Conley and Lagrimas Jr. are the Hawaiian counterpoints to Collin’s French-born chops. The bassist won a position with the Honolulu Symphony in his halcyon high school days and was the winner of a Wagoner fellowship, where he studied in Paris. And the drummer made his debut performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, later attending the Berklee College of Music.
As the North, the three players stand to draw their influences and credentials together in a way that doesn’t feel like showing off. Rather, the breezy effect of Slow Down (This Isn’t The Mainland) suggests a love for melody and songcraft seldom found in new groups. It’s a contemporary, pleasing vision — one that satisfies to the end.