Given the Francophobia that has reared its ugly head in American politics over the last few years, it's a relief to see that Stateside jazz fans, at least, are still open to the contributions of European practitioners of the art form. So, for instance, Jean-Michel Pilc's latest CD, the somewhat generically named Follow Me
, has been getting great reviews here in the States. And why shouldn't it? A former scientist, Pilc plays with a precision that in places is reminiscent of Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson. More importantly (and also like Evans and Peterson) he avoids sounding dry or academic despite the fact that he rarely misses a note.
What may be most admirable about Pilc's artistry, though, is that he seems to understand that there can be a productive relationship between the forces that have threatened to destroy jazz since the eightiesthe alternate realities of "out" and "in" (or, put another way, of the avant-garde and the mainstream). Though it may be tempting to hear Pilc as leaning more toward the musical inside (a sense perhaps reinforced by the standards he selects on this record, and by the pretty title track, a Pilc original), he's not afraid to complicate the more "lyrical" aspects of his sound with a subtle but insistent pianistic subversiveness. Listen, for example, to the sudden clusters that pepper his rendition of "My Favorite Things." Or the Monk-like anti-ending of "Autumn Leaves." Or the atonal countermelody woven into the beginning of "Ain't Misbehavin'." Pilc is equally Janus-faced as a composer: for instance, the aforementioned "Follow Me" is nicely balanced with a more angular original, cryptically entitled "The Racoon."
In the end, there's a vague restlessness to this recording, as if Pilc is torn between competing impulses to put a given tune together and then take it apart again. No complaint, that; it's another way of saying that Pilc leans toward a comprehensive pianism, ably expressingon a single instrument, no lessso much of what has made jazz fascinating, problematic, or inspiring over the last hundred years.