Friends Refining Musical Language: Rruga (Path) by the Colin Vallon Trio

By Daniel Garrett

Colin Vallon Trio, Rruga (Path)
Engineered by Gerard de Haro and Nicholas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
ECM, 2011

The music is slow-paced and somber, like the score for movements we can sense but not see, in the Colin Vallon Trio’s performance of Patrice Moret’s composition “Telepathy,” but the energy in it builds to a controlled cacophony.  The piano sounds great and the drummer is given some space in Colin Vallon’s “Rruga,” from which the trio’s album takes its title, rruga being a word for path; and the drummer’s beat, clash, rap, shimmer, and tap are more present than one expects.  It is not the only unique thing in the trio’s work.  The Colin Vallon Trio performs its own compositions on its album Rruga (Path), five pieces by pianist Colin Vallon, two by bassist Patrice Moret, and three by drummer Samuel Rohrer, and one piece by all three musicians.  The men are refining a musical language in ways that suit them.

The Colin Vallon Trio is a gathering of friends, if not of a generation.  (Colin Vallon was born in 1980, Patrice Moret in 1972, and Samuel Rohrer in 1977; and the 1970s were not much like the 1980s, with societies in different parts of the globe expanding and experimenting in the earlier decade and becoming more conservative and constrictive in the latter.)  The Colin Vallon Trio has been stimulating comment and enthusiasm for the thoughtful dynamics of its work, and is considered unusual, by some, for being inspired by singers in a field in which instrumentalists can be arrogant about their primacy.  One discerns a generosity of spirit.

The trio’s performance of “Home,” written by Colin Vallon, is intimate, quiet, and slow, presenting home as refuge, rather than a place of conflict or contradiction.  In the simplicity of Samuel Rohrer’s “Polygonia” there is the suggestion of magic.  “Eyjafjallajokull” is ominous but subtle, miming the movement of perception as well as nature; and named for a volcano, it is nearly pictorial in its implications.  Like the anticipation felt walking through an entrance to a room of pleasure, the song “Meral,” partly inspired by Turkish music, has a simmering sensuous rhythm—heat before it becomes light.

There is no replacement for good music, but how sound becomes music is almost infinite now.  While even some very famous and talented jazz singers have spoken about wanting to imitate horns, Colin Vallon has said that he wants his music to sing, and, consequently, melody is important, and there is, within the trio, a willingness to be inspired by city and nature and spirit, and the folk music tradition of different countries, particularly of the Caucasus region, and by contemporary rock as well as jazz masters.  It is odd that some people—I am sometimes to be numbered among them—are startled when educated composers choose to incorporate folk music in their work, forgetting why folk music and folk culture have endured: they have been of use for generations, true to human experience or imagination, and many people continue to live within the traditions of community, daily habit, relation to the land, and ritual that create or sustain that culture.  Good musicians, good artists, are looking, always, for strong elements.  Yet, what makes modern art exciting and important are its ability to keep up with advances in experience, knowledge, and technology, and to anticipate what may occur next, thus recreating consciousness.

Lovely notes are transformed into cries and scrapes in “Iskar,” a piece composed by Colin Vallon with Patrice Moret and Samuel Rohrer; and Patrice Moret’s bass pulsations give Samuel Rohrer’s “Noreia” a rhythmic base, around which the piano circles and the drummer Samuel Rohrer adds accents.  The eruption of sound, like crashing waves, in a variation of “Rruga” is the closest the trio comes to an established jazz sound, and it is a good preamble for “Fjord,” which is less full of the expected rise and fall, and is nearly but not quite placid.  Notes bloom, brighten, sway, and collapse in “Epilog.”

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett, who likes jazz, independent rock, and world music, originated two internet logs: one focused on culture and social issues, “City and Country, Boy and Man,” and one focused on books, “The Garrett Reader.”  He has been writing a novel, A Stranger on Earth.  Contact: dgarrett31@hotmail or