Issue 17.5: October/November 2014

The Sound of Slowing Down

Story by Nate Chinen
Photo by Jen Lauren Grant

They had no intention of starting a band, let alone making an album. “None of us saw it coming,” says Abe Lagrimas Jr. “It just kind of happened, like it was meant to be.” So credit for The North belongs to fate.

It began several years ago when Romain Collin, a young French pianist, reached out to Lagrimas, his former classmate at the Berklee College of Music and now a busy drummer in Los Angeles. Collin was hoping to ditch Brooklyn’s winter chill. “Abe was the only guy I knew from Hawai‘i in the world,” Collin recalls. “He said, ‘Actually, I just spoke with Shawn Conley. We should get together for a week and play.’”

Conley—an accomplished bassist who lives ten blocks from Collin—knew Lagrimas from their teen years when they gigged around Honolulu. They still played together during trips home, but were caught off guard by the rapport they had with Collin. “From the very first note we played, we all kind of felt it,” Lagrimas says.

Local audiences did too, including supporters who arranged for the trio to return. They recorded their debut album, Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland), in the house in Manoa where they stayed. “We would get up, go to the North Shore and catch a few waves, come back and record,” says Collin. “We tried to capture that sense of air and spontaneity, without the pressure to perform.” The album, which has earned enthusiastic reviews, reflects those qualities with an articulate but unhurried style. There are standards by Thelonious Monk and Chick Corea, melodic originals by Conley and Collin, and tunes by Bob Dylan and Christina Courtin.

In other words, The North isn’t really a “Hawaiian jazz” trio but a group that expresses its local affinity more subtly: Their name alludes to the North Shore, and the album title is a reference to a bumper sticker you see on Island roads. “I love living in New York,” says Conley, “but I don’t think I could take it if I couldn’t go home and slow down. I’ve never had a musical outlet for that Hawai‘i side of things.”

It seems as if that unexpected gift will keep on giving: Early this year the trio recorded enough material for a second album, due out next year.