Colin Vallon piano
Patrice Moret double-bass
Samuel Rohrer drums
Recorded May 2010 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Now here we have the debut of a trio for the ages. Deeply inspired by the folk music of the Caucasus, Rruga (the word means “path” or “journey” in Albanian) culminates six careful years of fine-tuning in a studio session that feels as if it were recorded the shadows of those very mountains. This Swiss outfit of pianist Colin Vallon, bassist Patrice Moret, and drummer Samuel Rohrer spins a web so robust that it threatens to uproot the trees it spans.
Vallon pens four tunes, of which two iterations of the title track stand like those very trees. The sound is likewise rooted from the very beginning and takes account of every crack of bark and quiver of leaf above. None of these young musicians seems possessed of ego, as if they were soloists of some inaudible and nameless orchestra—a force that by any other name might interlock into a familiar sigil of creative action. Here, however, the need for such emblems fades like so many notes, struck and plucked by hammers and fingers to rhythms born of the moment.
From the autobiographical (“Home”) to the cataclysmic (“Eyjafjallajökull,” meant to evoke the eponymous Icelandic volcano), Vallon and friends navigate a reflective grammar, interested as they are in forging tactile emotions as a unit rather than in dictating them through demonstrative soloing. The trio has an uncanny ability to sound electronic. “Eyjafjallajökull,” for instance, lays out a surface of drone into which Vallon drops strategic pebbles. The effect is haunting, gorgeous. “Meral,” named for the pianist’s late grandmother and reflecting a Turkish folk music influence, is smoothest of them all and embodies a straightforward approach to melody. There’s nothing jagged or showy. Even the prepared piano details feel like everyday occurrences.
Moret contributes two tunes. “Fjord” feels somehow suspended, sung as much by Rohrer’s brushes as by bass or piano. Yet it is his “Telepathy,” which takes its inspiration from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, that epitomizes the album’s reach. Vallon’s pianism evolves from sleeping to waking, carving its path through the night with a thread of sun in hand. As density builds, so does the sky also thicken—to the point where the trio lies on its back as one body like Michelangelo and raises a paintbrush to its surface: looking up to look within.
The beat is always slightly askew and coheres by no small feat of careful listening. This is most obvious in the three tunes from Rohrer, whose “Polygonia” is a stunner. Its modal qualities give vitality to every angle. “Noreia,” named for a vanished ancient city of the Alps, is another glory, a soaring gem of melody that lands as softly as it takes off. Last from the drummer is “Epilog,” a flower within a flower.
Completing the set is a trio improvisation around the Bulgarian song “Shope Shope” by Stefan Mutafchiev. Titled “Iskar,” its prepared piano resounds like a warped gamelan before smoothing into a mid-tempo groove. It strikes perhaps the deepest root and drinks of its histories until every drop contributes a song.
If you’ve ever wondered how a record label could singlehandedly enrich the piano trio art form, then consider this your Exhibit A. Vallon is that rare player who can turn smolder into sparkle, and his bandmates know his chemical signatures inside and out. Rruga is an astonishing achievement and easily holds its own among ECM’s finest releases of all time.
(To hear samples of the album proper, click here.)