Heat of the Moment
Last year on these pages we introduced you to the French-Malagasy pianist and composer Mathis Picard and his solo rendering Live at the Museum. Now he returns with an album, as the title indicates, focused on climate change, Picard’s quest for healing the planet. Heat of the Moment is also a celebration of Picard’s musical community, a family reunion of sorts, featuring some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz including Joel Ross, Melanie Charles, Braxton Cook, Giveton Gelin and many more guests. In fact, Picard plays with three different drummer-bass tandems across these ten tracks as the album was recorded in three different studios – one in L.A. and two in NYC, where Picard is based.
The album opens with “Hello,” the single that has an accompanying video featuring Melanie Charles on flute and Kofi Hunter on percussion. Its percolating and joyous rhythms set the tone for the album that, despite the serious nature of the theme, is consistently uplifting. The first three tracks feature the tandem of drummer Jonathan Pinson and bassist Joshua Crumbly, both featured most prominently of three on “The Space Between Breath,” an angular Monk-like piece in some respects. Perhaps this writer is just a bit unduly swayed by having seen Picard perform Monk’s material in a group commissioned by JALC, Young Monk. In any case, Picard’s pianism is often very percussive, here matched well with the rhythm section, who are frenetic in their accompaniment as they are in brimming, rollicking title track where Picard’s left hand deliver thunderous chord while his right skitters delightfully across the keys. Like the prior piece the momentum slackens and decelerates at the end, perhaps signifying our need to be more reflective of the cause at hand.
The next three feature bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, who were a longtime tandem for fellow pianist Emmet Cohen. This unit begins with the burner (couldn’t help it) “Your Love Is Healing,” and exposition and explosion of Picard’s animated piano stylings. The first rather pensive piece of the set and a true standout is “Prana,” featuring the acclaimed vibraphonist Joel Ross who colors and brightens Picard’s melodic lines as Poole holds steady with his brushes, switching to sticks in the latter half as the piece intensely builds while Hall punctuates the flowing tune with his judicious plucking. Picard shares the focus more directly with Hall and Poole on the deeply grooved swinger “Nothing Is Something.”
Drummer Savannah Harris and bassist Parker McAllister hold down the last four tracks with fiery trumpeter Giveton Gelin gracing and brightening the exhilarating “Never Again.” “Look at All Those Trees,” a trio piece, begins with a series of glorious glissandos and flattens out a bit in the middle section and builds right back up as Picard emits his fluid, cascading lines, and gorgeous harmonics. “Let It Be” (not the Beatles tune) is the second ballad, rendered beautifully by guest Braxton Cook on tenor. The closer, “Life Gets Easier,” features the vocalists Vuyo Sotashe, Shenel Johns, and J Heard along with UK tenorist Ruben Fox in a joyous close, filled with repetitive vocal refrains, two lyrical solos from Fox, and several choruses of wordless vocals, culminating in a hymn-like climax.
Be wary of your initial impression that might have you steering away from an album with the purposeful cause of climate change. There is no preaching here, there are no foreboding, apocalyptic scenarios suggested. Instead, the music is lively and celebratory, the kind of music we need to treasure and preserve just as we need to do the same for this planet.
- Jim Hynes
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