By John Lawrence
On Saturday, February 1, a trio group called “The North” played San Diego’s premiere jazz club, Dizzy’s, just off the I-5 in Pacific Beach. It was a pre-release party for their album, “Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland)” which is officially due out April 15 although albums were available at the club. The group consists of Romain Collin, piano, Shawn Conley, bass, and Abe Lagrimas Jr, drums.
Recorded in Hawaii, and dedicated to Oahu’s north shore (hence the name), they mainly created a mellow, laid back sound. No hard-edged New York City vibe here. As such the music should be very accessible for the average listener but not so much for the die hard jazz fan. One person’s “laid back” is another person’s “nuthin much happenin.”
The group performed the tunes they had recorded on the album, naturally. The most successful tune even more so in concert than on the album was Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The group’s exquisite rendering was almost prayerful and churchlike. They tried quite successfully to incorporate folk music in their ouvre.
Alternative pop/rock singer Christina Courtin was also represented with her tune, “Join Us Jackson.” However the tunes I enjoyed the most were by other jazz composers: Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” and Thelonious Monk’s, “Light Blue.” There was a rare walking bass line and the drummer kept time in the traditional way – on the ride cymbal.
A lot of young guys just starting out in the music business are faced with the dilemma of making a living in music as these guys certainly must be. They seemed to have made a choice to depart from the jazz mainstream perhaps in search of a following. Today many musicians are involved in several projects, some more on the commercial side and some more artistic.
Romain’s fellow countryman, Hector Berlioz, composer of Symphonie Fantastique faced the same situation in the 1830s. As detailed in his excellent autobiography which should be a must read for every musician, he gigged around Europe especially in Germany and Russia but making most of his living doing music criticism on the side. So I appreciate the effort young musicians must make to attract a following, and it seems like the accessibility and mellowness of this music might just be successful in doing that.
Although the jazz mine has many veins, this music is not the one with the richest ore in my opinion. The mainstream of jazz for me stems from Charlie Parker, Miles, Mingus, Monk and Clifford Brown. It’s music of great harmonic and rhythmic sophistication. The accessibility of The North’s music seemingly necessitated a backing off from those ideals. Of the 10 tunes on the CD, 6 were composed by band members Collin and Conley. There was a sameness that at times became soporific. I would have preferred to see more of their offerings be by other composers. The compositions of too many young musicians aren’t ready for prime time as was the case here in my opinion.
The great jazz composer and bandleader Duke Ellington said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and The North seemed interested in making a point of not swinging most of the time. Many of the bass and drum parts seemed to be preplanned, nonspontaneous and repetitious, almost herky jerky. They continued unabated throughout the statement of the theme. This was definitely not toe tapping music. Harmonically, The North’s music is relatively static.
It doesn’t move far from the tonic. Flatted fifths and minor ninths are not part of the mind set. The drums were at some points overpowering and too busy, and I could barely hear the bass parts both at the concert and on the CD. The bass needs to be miked up a little. This music reminded me to some extent of the new age music on the Windham Hill label which has been dismissed by some critics as pleasant but disposable ear candy – bland, innocuous and unimaginative mood music.
The great jazz trios such as those of Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson were highly interactive and attained a consistent, infectious groove. I would like to see this group be more spontaneously interactive instead of the bass and the drums providing just a background to Romain’s piano a lot of the time. Although Romain’s piano musings were pleasant enough, contemplative noodling backed by a preplanned, static bass and drums accompaniment just isn’t my cup of tea although it may have great appeal for others.
On the positive side I really enjoyed the drum solos near the end of the set. Abe really can play. I was disappointed, however, that there was not one drum solo on the CD. The group seemed to pick up steam near the end of the set. They seemed to be smiling and enjoying themselves more and this translated to more enjoyment for the listeners as well. It was a nice touch that all three spoke with the audience instead of just the “leader.”
Finally, I’d like to put in a plug for Dizzy’s, one of the longest running and most successful jazz clubs in San Diego history. Proprietor Chuck Perrin has kept this club going for 15 years first in a converted warehouse near Petco Park, later across from the Convention Center in Harbor Towers and now at a location that sells or rents jet skis by day and is converted into a jazz club by night. Unlike the Antholgy club which offered the latest in high tech accoutrements but recently closed down, Dizzy’s is low key. There are no TVs, no bar scene and no distractions. It’s a place where the music matters most.
Chuck says, ““Jazz is a state of mind, rather than a specific type of music. A jazz musician is someone who lives and creates in the moment. Dizzy’s is my way of expressing that in a more ostentatious way. For me the sense of community among people, especially musicians and other artists, is really important. All musicians really want is someone to say ’ I respect you’. When the musicians can be free, then the experience of the audience can be heightened enormously. It’s a magical situation.”
The acoustics are great, light refreshments are available and there is free parking. Much good music is going down at Dizzy’s both from local and touring musicians.