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Castles and Hilltops by Tim Collins

With such a geographically visual image for an album title, vibraphonist Tim Collins leads his quartet through six original compositions and two covers where one's mental imagery can conjure various sublime locations through the tonal colors that this ensemble strives for and attains.

Collins' quartet – pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Tommy Crane – assert their energy immediately on "TNT," the very energetic and appropriately- named opener.  Collins' sound benefits from Grissett's accompaniment, which propels the melody while Crane explores his entire kit.  Crane's tom-tom runs and cymbal splashes help evoke a scene of being at sea.  At times, this song's more potent, scenic parts recall Tony Williams' "The Overture" from The Story of Neptune.  When the soloists clear a path for Crane at the song's crescendo, he responds with a solo that keeps the waves crashing against the rocks.

A different tonal texture -- one that toys with a New Orleans second-line flavor and strut – emerges on "Army Brat."  At times tight, but most times loose, the rhythm section's stop-and-go variations in feel allow Collins a springboard to segue seamlessly from bright melody to brighter improvisation.  This performance culminates with a feisty exchange between piano and vibes that Crane helps keeps happening with a roundhouse romp on his cymbals and drums.  On a disc characterized by well-oiled tightness, this moment serves as the most uninhibited.

Collins also covers compositions by Bjork Gudmundsdottir -- the singer from Iceland -- and Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne's "Into the Great Wide Open."  On Bjork's "The Anchor Song," the ensemble attempts and achieves a quiet, panoramic, take-it-all-in visual suggested by this album's title.  Clohesy's thick, low-end solo serves as an effective contrast and lead-in to Collins, whose instrument's natural shimmering sound and resonance is at its peak here.  Crane's cymbal work and quiet thunder rolls from his tom-toms at this song's peak provide this song's picturesque effect, along with Grissett, whose (mostly unaccompanied) solo carries the imagery further to its contemplative conclusion.

For Petty and Lynne's "Into the Great Wide Open," Collins begins with a straight reading that is punctuated at unpredictable moments by Crane's triplet-drops that alternate from snare to tom-tom, with an interspersing of cymbals.  This contrast works quite well and serves as a preview, for as the performance progresses, Crane alternates between a brief, soft backbeat and some cross-sticking, while Collins' playing evolves as he immerses himself into an improvisation where the sound waves from his vibes spread out evenly, farther and farther, much like the way waves in water move after a pebble is plopped into it.

Seen, indeed.          

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tim Collins
  • CD Title: Castles and Hilltops
  • Genre: Ambient Jazz
  • Record Label: Independent
  • Tracks: TNT...Pond...Army Brat...The Anchor Song...The Tunnel...From Above...Into the Great Wide Open...The Tunnel (Reprise)
  • Musicians: Tim Collins, vibraphone; Danny Grissett, piano; Matt Clohesy, bass, and Tommy Crane, drums
  • Rating: Five Stars
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