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District Jazz

Duke Ellington Jazz Festival 2005

By Published: October 18, 2005
Originally from Paris, self-taught pianist Jean-Michel Pilc burst on the New York scene in the mid-nineties to quickly establish himself as a new, powerful voice in the jazz world. Irrepressible, irreverent, uncompromising, and impossibly innovative, Pilc has become known for his startling compositions and explosive improvisatory style, as well as his leadership of two trios, equally recognized for their rhythmic ingenuity and almost psychic group dynamic. Tucked in the corner of the IMAX jazz café with band-mates Ari Hoenig (drums) and Thomas Bramerie (bass), Pilc let out all the stops, presenting material from previous albums, their upcoming release, and even a newly composed work, whose astonishingly integrated diversity of moods, rhythms, and colors painted a tremendously moving tonal landscape. By the end of the evening, the trio's expressiveness, unbridled energy, and sheer virtuosic talent reminded audience members that jazz is an ever moving art and its greatest practitioners are often found off the beaten track.

As if to drive home this point, one of the festival's finest moments took place during its final hours, in the two-level restaurant and club, the Bohemian Caverns. It is one of the distinct pleasures of jazz, and all live music, to witness first-hand a band's evolution, especially when that evolution entails great leaps forward. Merely a year ago, and after many years of separation, the twin brothers Francois (bass) and Louis (drums) Moutin reunited to form a new band, and release an album under the name the Moutin Reunion Quartet. As part of the tour for that album, the band played at D.C.'s Blues Alley and though they blew the audience away with their stunning instrumentalism, it was clear that the band member's were still new to each other and had yet to unlock their full potential. Now, a year later, that promise has come to fruition. Playing a whole new range of material composed by the brothers for their latest release, Something Like Now, the band has reached a new level of expressiveness fueled by compositions of greater clarity, complexity, and daring. Whereas previously the Moutin brothers at times expressed their virtuosity at the expense of the whole, leaving pianist Pierre De Bethmann and saxophonist Rick Margitza by the wayside, the band now plays as a tight unit devoted to their group sound. On tune after tune, all four musicians not only contributed blistering solos, but urged each other forward with intermittently subtle and aggressive accompaniment. In short, in the brief span of a single year, the Moutin Reunion Quartet has risen to the artistic challenge of surpassing oneself, even when that means taking the risky leap beyond already proven excellence into the uncharted territory of experiment.

After four days of the Duke Ellington Festival, it is clear that Washington, D.C. possess an ample appetite for jazz, and even long-time residents may have been surprised to discover just how many venues throughout the city offer live music year round, let alone during special events. It remains to be seen whether the Duke Ellington Festival will return next year as promised, but by all rights it certainly should for the simple reason that as one of America's greatest contributions to culture, jazz deserves a celebrated home in the nation's capitol.

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