Our Man in Montreal: The 23rd Montreal International Jazz Festival (Part 2-2)
Speaking of futuristic, is there a more technically adept pianist today than Pilc? Again, I have to note I probably will not see him at such a perfect venue again. Quite simply, no contemporary pianist on the scene today asserts more swagger, bravado and confidence on the jazz stage than Jean-Michel Pilc. "Commanding"? an understatement-with a trio to match. Ari Hoenig has to be the most unorthodox jazz drummer I’ve ever seen arms and legs akimbo in an disentangled dance somehow bringing pure melodicism from the kit. In fact, Ari used his elbow on a couple of occasions to play the melody of the tunes on his slackened snare drum. Musicians like Ari make jazz viewing the pleasure it is. The motions and the sounds produced, enjoyably, simply don’t match up. Francois Moutin rounds out the trio on "contrabasse", a great French word you’ll hear often in Montreal (and Europe), meaning "bass". Coming off the aforementioned Moutin Bros. show at 6, Francois looked pretty fresh at 11. That all changed within ten minutes, as he dropped his suit jacket to the floor in a ball of sweat. At 6 feet plus, he’s the third physically and technically dominating member of the trio, and it’s most maniacal, flying up and down the neck of the contrabasse as if it’s a nylon stringed guitar. Soloing at length on every tune and contributing an arrangement or two (the arrangement of "Stella.." was a standout), it’s a trio bassist’s dream gig, and Moutin proved more than up to the task. While reviews of Pilc’s new one, "Welcome Home", have been extremely positive, the "rap" has been its supposed lack of original compositions, implying a lack of them on Pilc’s part. Yeah, right! Jean-Michel introduced one tune by saying it was only a piece of Part I of one movement of a four movement suite he’s composed (didya follow that?). As suspected, a player of this magnitude has all kinds of things up his sleeve the conundrum is what to put out there and how.
Regarding the leader, when the astounded journalist (that’s me) is confronted with such grand technique, it’s sometimes hard to keep the ear pointed to the musical prize. I’ll forego my take on it and let the leader sum up in his own words, as told in a previous interview (with Nate Chinen of Philly’s City Paper). Pilc simultaneously gives his audience perspective while proving his own, to wit: "The great French pianist Martial Solal said something that’s very true: ‘Technique allows you to express your ideas instantly.’ Which means, you know, when a musician is playing his instrument; you can feel when there is an obstacle between his thought and the realization of the thought." Well said- and well done in a city so full of the culture of his homeland (Pilc’s between-song banter, which was received enthusiastically and warmly, was all in French). Some fresh quotes from Jean-Michel, from our post-gig interview, will be posted here soon.
This concluded jazz viewings for my excursion northward and my sampling of a fraction of Montreal annual summer jazz feast. I saw maybe 5 percent of the acts that played the festival, but enjoyed myself 100 percent of the time. Complaints? Hardly any. How about some characteristic Canadian frostiness in the air- would have been nice. The massive forest fires on the way home provided an unseasonable haze as well. And remember that piece of the article on the "festivals within the festival"? While most sub-genres are well-represented, including mainstream, world music, Latin, electronica, blues, Zydeco, and this year, even Norwegian jazz, there was a noticeable lack of any avant/Knitting Factory /Vision Festival type acts. Perhaps it was just a glitch in this year’s bookings or perhaps conscious substitution of a different jazz "stream", but bookings like Frank London’s Hasidic New Wave ( covered locally here ), who were one of last acts to play the festival, were few and far between. Look on the bright side-no "smooth" jazz was to be found.