Jean-Michel Pilc and his band go with the flow on their new album Alive: Live at Dièse Onze, Montréal — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
For the extraordinary pianist, live performance represents the pinnacle spontaneity and improvisation — and in his outstanding new release on Justin Time Records, Pilc and his bandmates Rémi-Jean LeBlanc (bass) and Jim Doxas (drums) are “improvising musicians in their natural habitat, the jazz club, playing music for the sake of music, never repeating themselves, and creating sounds that they will never replicate.
“All my concerts are totally improvised — no setlist, nothing prepared, just let the music lead the way,” Pilc explains. “I come on stage as a newborn, ready for a new life, a new journey, a new experience every time. My bandmates are part of that experience as much as I am myself, every note they play becomes part of this life we are living together on the stage.
“Improvisation is often associated with freedom, but beware of appearances. When inspiration strikes, music has a way to lead you from one moment to the next that gives you no choice but to follow the flow. And when all the members of the band hear the same sound, all of it, and react not as individuals but as part of that sound, then it feels like home, or family.”
This concert, recorded in June 2021, marked the trio’s first performance since the pandemic. “The music was vital, to us and to the audience, and we experienced the full gamut of human emotions,” Pilc shares. “When we played that night for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, that feeling of evidence was palpable, more than ever; Montreal is lucky to have such a beautiful club as Diese Onze, and I’m sure the listener will feel the warmth and swinging atmosphere of the place.
The music here contains endlessly delightful surprises woven seamlessly into the intricate fabric of the individual pieces. Two Miles Davis classics provide excellent examples: The sheer simplicity of lyricism in Nardis evolves like a persistently gentle snowfall, while the rumbling and rolling All Blues escalates into a two-fisted romp that culminates in a scalding rapid-fire explosion of intensity and ferocity. A Hammerstein/Romberg song that became a jazz standard, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise passes through so multiple stages, from its melodic opening through thunderous crescendos that never lose the sensitivity of the song, ending up a tantalizingly slow blues.
Other tracks cover a wide spectrum, including three more Davis-affiliated items — a highly exciting spin on Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance, a jauntily swinging Someday My Prince Will Come and an appropriately moody My Funny Valentine. The set also features a complex take on Lennon & McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby, a whimsical version of Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are, a lovely version of Rodgers & Hart’s My Romance, and a dynamic Latin-tinged run through John Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. A pair of Pilc originals are also included: 11 Sharp is a highly rhythmic, somewhat Monkish excursion, consistently evolving in melodic variety and emotional intensity, while the title cut Alive takes an evocative, persistently explorative foray into gently insistent lyricism, wrapping the album on a subtly provocative note.
Enormously prolific and multi-faceted, Pilc has served as musical director for Harry Belafonte, performed with operatic legend Jessye Norman, and released nearly two dozen albums as a leader and co-leader over his 25-year career.