Grégoire Maret/Romain Collin: Ennio review – emotional, ecstatic Morricone homage

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Harmonica star Maret and pianist/composer Collin pay homage to Ennio Morricone with drifting church-echo and trancelike sounds

Ornette Coleman once told the BBC’s Jazz on 3 that when his mother Rosa gave him his first saxophone, but couldn’t afford lessons, he thought it was a toy and played it without realising “you have to learn something to find out what the toy does”. Maybe it’s an extreme case, but not an unfamiliar jazz story. Collisions of improvisers’ whims and formal and informal learning drove ghetto prodigy trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s trailblazing timing, dynamics and rhythmic variation, Charlie Christian’s coolly swinging melodic transformations of solo electric guitar in the 30s – or John Coltrane’s lung-busting 50s/60s stretching of a saxophone’s range to make seamless long sounds and split-note harmonies that the instrument’s inventor, Adolphe Sax, never imagined.

Swiss-born harmonica star Grégoire Maret, mentored by Belgium’s Toots Thielemans, adopted an instrument once widely regarded as a toy and spectacularly enriched its voice-like sound and solo-improv agility. Ennio, the follow-up to Maret’s acclaimed 2020 album Americana, rekindles his rapport on that set with superb French pianist/composer Romain Collin, in homage to movie-score maestro Ennio Morricone. The pair are intimately and spontaneously conversational on Once Upon a Time in America (Deborah’s Theme), while the ecstatic ensemble climax of The Good the Bad and the Ugly: The Ecstasy of Gold often recalls Maret’s former collaborations with the Pat Metheny Group. Once Upon a Time in the West unfolds over a Jarrett-like rocking piano vamp; Se Telefonando is a vocal duet for Cassandra Wilson and Gregory Porter; and Man With a Harmonica is recast in drifting church-echo harmonica and slide-guitar sounds, over Collin’s trancelike piano ostinato.

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