Americana (ACT)

Grégoire Maret, Romain Collin & Bill Frisell

Released April 24, 2020

Grammy Nominee for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album 2021

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2020




“Americana” represents an exciting collaboration between two prodigious musicians: harmonica great Gregoire Maret, and acclaimed pianist Romain Collin. Grégoire Maret is a phenomenon and a master musician. He is a virtuoso with a vivid imagination and a sublime way of giving shape to a melody. Collin, meanwhile, has been described by NPR as “a visionary composer, an extraordinary jazz pianist” and by the Boston Globe as being “among the leading lights of a new breed of players”. Upon meeting each other in New York, the two musicians bonded over a shared love of jazz, song and pure melody. Together they embarked on a project which would explore the musical depths of the American soul. They turned to the uniquely great Bill Frisell to help forge a connection between American songwriting and the high art of instrumental playing. In this musical world, vast soundscapes co-exist with epic stories.

Born and raised in Switzerland, Maret has been a NYC resident for the past 20 years. “My mother is American, born in Harlem, and has bequeathed me the legacy of Afro-American culture. I see myself as a bridge between two cultures: European and Afro-American”. Maret has been a significant figure on the New York scene, playing alongside Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock. “This new album is the result of personal cultural experiences.” Maret and Collin chose to call this project “Americana”. They explain: “ ‘Americana’ is at the intersection of folk, country, blues, R&B, gospel and bluegrass. The essence of this project is to take an inclusive attitude to all of the roots of American music and culture.” France native Collin has become an established presence in the US. Appreciated by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Collin has evolved a distinctive aesthetic, integrating electronic sound design with lyrical piano improvisations. On guitars, the duo enlisted the services of one of the great creative minds of the instrument: Bill Frisell’s singing, lyrical timbre on both the electric and acoustic guitar is unmistakable, always marked by his own personal metamorphoses of bluegrass, country and blues and by his profound knowledge of the philosophy of songwriting. Dummer Clarence Penn also makes a fine, incisive contribution.

The Americana trio’s journey starts with a surprise: the composer of “Brothers In Arms” is not actually American at all. And yet Scottish-born Mark Knopfler proved with Dire Straits that his way of internalizing the myths of American history is not just skillful but also highly persuasive. Maret and Collin pare back his 1985 hit to its essence. It is simple, spacious and highly affecting. From his immense body of work, Bill Frisell has contributed two compositions, “Small Town” and “Rain, Rain”: the first of the pair emerges as a bewitching folk song in miniature, with rustic-dry banjo and wistful mouth organ, and the second song hovers with a hymn-like poise over the melodic web of guitars, piano and harmonica. This ensemble also pays homage to one of the great songwriters, Jimmy Webb. His “Wichita Lineman” gains even more spatial depth in this slowed-down instrumental version, the soul of the railwayman almost sings in Maret’s heart-rending improvisation. The group also honors Justin Vernon (alias Bon Iver), an Americana representative of the hipster generation, in “Re: Stacks”. Here Maret gives encouragement to a broken heart for a new chapter in life, surrounded by a glistening array of textures sculpted by Frisell, and supported by Collin’s electronic loops and synth bass.

Maret and Collin have also brought the essence of Americana in their own compositions: Romain Collin portrays the wine-growing region of California in “San Luis Obispo”, a song from his 2015 ACT release Press Enter, beautifully revisited with Frisell and Maret stating the melody with total persuasiveness. Maret has succeeded in creating a slow 6/8 song named “Back Home”, which is as proud as it is heartfelt. A composition Clarence Penn underscores with his discreet brushwork and in which Maret soars to an almost exuberant triumph before bringing the track to a calm close. “The Sail”, on the other hand, heralds a new departure: the piano alternates with the harmonica to create a sweeping dramaturgy, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes resolute. And in their joint final piece “Still”, Maret and Collin have the opportunity to reflect and meditate on their American journey. “Wherever Gregoire Maret stands, whenever he lifts his instrument to his lips, the room and all its inhabitants are immediately transformed, we are transported with a sweet yet powerful intensity to a higher plane.” These are the words of high praise which Grégoire Maret once received from Cassandra Wilson, with whom he has worked for many years. This is also a particularly apt way to describe the soulful and life-affirming “Americana”.

Track Listing:

1. Brothers in Arms (Mark Knopfler) 03:08

2. Small Town (Bill Frisell) 03:57

3. Rain, Rain (Bill Frisell) 06:16

4. San Luis Obispo (Romain Collin) 04:02

5. Back Home (Grégoire Maret) 05:15

6. Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb) 05:27

7. The Sail (Grégoire Maret) 07:07

8. Re: Stacks (Justin Vernon) 08:14

9. Still (Romain Collin / Grégoire Maret) 06:11


Grégoire Maret: harmonica
Romain Collin: piano, Moog Taurus, pump organ & additional effects
Bill Frisell: electric guitar, acoustic guitar & banjo
Clarence Penn: drums

Recorded at Bunker Studios, NY, by Jeremy Loucas
Mixed by Jeremy Loucas
Mastered by Alan Silverman
Cover art by Anna Ley: Plus 1992 (2019) / ACT Art Collection Produced by Grégoire Maret & Romain Collin


Swiss-born harmonica player and composer Grégoire Maret is based in New York, and a first-call sideman and collaborator for a wide range of musicians including Pat Metheny, Elton John, Meshell Ndegeocello, Terri Lynne Carrington, and Marcus Miller. French-born pianist Romain Collin attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music and stayed. He leads his own trio and plays duo dates with Maret. Guitarist Bill Frisell needs no introduction; he is the aesthetic anchor here as well as the date’s supreme colorist. Americana is a love letter from two immigrants to their adopted home. For Maret, that’s doubly true: his mother is from Harlem. The program contains original compositions by all three men as well as three covers. The opener is a reading of Mark Knopfler’s “Brothers in Arms,” and delivers the set’s initial surprise: It’s played by Maret and Collin. The two ACT labelmates perform this paean of affirmation and commitment as quietly and gently as a lullaby. Frisell’s “Small Town” reprises the roots aesthetic the guitarist showcased on albums such as Nashville (1997) and Disfarmer (2009). Initiated in Maret’s high-middle register, its melody recalls the music of the Civil War, underscored by the guitarist’s use of a banjo alongside his electric six-string. Collin’s chord voicings add color, texture, and nuance, drawing the melody’s emotion into the open. While the tune’s structure is simple, the canny, sensitive interplay is not. Collin’s “San Luis Obispo” is a straight-up country tune and he uses an upright piano. Frisell states the melody before winding it out with slippery, single-string statements and impressionistic chord voicings before handing it off to Maret, who takes over and interacts with Collin. The harmonicist’s “Back Home” is initiated by Collin with a cascading single-note pattern embellished by fragmentary chords. Maret’s lovely yet intensely lonesome chromaticism never plays extra notes; he allows them full voice as guest Clarence Penn’s brushed snare adds emphasis. The reading of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” begins with an airy statement from Frisell before Maret claims the melody atop Collin’s gospel-inflected chords. Frisell strums an acoustic underneath them and embellishes with his Telecaster. All three men alternate in offering small improvisations on the changes and lyric to quietly stunning effect. The set’s longest number is a cover of Justin Vernon’s “Re: Stacks”; its original version appeared on Bon Iver’s stripped-to-the-bone debut For Emma, Forever Ago. Acoustic and electric guitars frame the margins of Collin’s gentle yet interrogative piano pulse as Maret makes the lyric melody breathe with long doubled notes. Its movement is leisurely with ghostly reverbed piano hovering around Frisell’s strummed changes and single-string lines. The sonic abstractions offered by Collin’s Moog Taurus and pump organ continue with the harmonica as a nearly ambient interlude that bleeds over into their joint improvisation “Still.” Americana is imbued with warmth and tenderness throughout. It’s an endearing portrait of the intimate side of American life. These songs echo collective and individual memories as well as idiosyncratic sense impressions of those that are hoped for.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)