Alive – Live at Diese Onze, Montreal
Rarely will you hear so much energy from a piano trio as you do here with Jean-Michel Pilc’s trio playing live in one of Montreal’s best jazz clubs, Diese Onze, on the album Alive. This is the essence of spontaneous, improvised jazz even though three of the five compositions, jazz standards all, should be familiar. All five selections exceed ten minutes in length, giving this trio immense opportunities to stretch out. Pilc claims to never play with a set list and this performance was special, in that it unleashed the pent-up energy from months of being sidelined due to the pandemic. Pilc is unpredictable, and amazingly percussive on the piano throughout, joined by bassist Remi-Jean LeBlanc, and celebrated drummer Jim Doxas. For those of you that have preconceived notions about a jazz piano trio being staid, this will defy any such notion.
The oft covered opening standard, Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Softly As in Morning Sunrise,” alone goes through so many changes that it is dizzying. First there are fragments of melody, Tristano-like lines evolving into hair-raising crescendos, a few more sensitive passages and bluesy swing that evokes Bud Powell and Herbie Nichols in its conclusion that has the audience enthusiastically roaring their approval. “11 Sharp” is a Pilc original, with intricate rhythms played deftly by the trio, especially by Doxas. It seems as if Pilc is constantly challenging his bandmates as he makes Monkish excursions in start-stop patterns as if to say, “catch me if you can.” The intensity becomes contagious, leads into a frenetic Doxas solo, and yet doesn’t culminate explosively as we might expect, but instead segues seamlessly into Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” where they prove they can take the delicate tact too. Just shy of the six-minute mark, the bassist LeBlanc steps out, igniting a spirited dialogue with each of his trio mates as the energy of the piece, as it usually does, inevitably builds until they exit in a whisper.
The standout here though is “All Blues,” another Miles Davis classic, which Pilc and the trio turn inside out, rumbling and rollicking with abandon in such breathtaking rapid-fire mode that Doxas’ cymbal crashes could well be the visual equivalent of sparks. LeBlanc gives us a respite from the fury but soon the trio revs up ferociously again. Yes, we get the explosive climax and then some, this time. The final piece, the other Pilc original, “Alive,” begins with LeBlanc’s lyrical pizzicato intro and when the pianist enters pensively, we are now in a completely different zone than in the previous piece. Doxas builds drama and the pianist goes into a right-handed dominant explorative excursion, returning to the sweet lyricism heard earlier, creating a gradual crescendo that dissolves to a yet another fading finale. That piece captures the essence of his style – by turns lyrical, intense, unpredictable, and tender.
This writer recommends that you do as I will, check out the second set which is available as a digital download at www.justin-time.com/collections/jean-michel-pilc There are seven additional pieces, including Miles Davis affiliated ones, “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “My Funny Valentine” along with the standards “All the Things You Are” and “My Romance.” In addition, they render Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and give a Latin tinge to John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”
This is my introduction to Pilc, one of the most exciting pianists heard recently. It’s not surprising to learn that Pilc was once the musical director for Harry Belafonte, had a notable duet with operatic legend Jessye Norman, and has over a dozen albums as leader and almost as many as a co-leader. This is his debut for Justin Time Records. It is breathtaking in its intensity.
- Jim Hynes