Day 10 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, July 7, 2006
As the Montreal Jazz Festival has continued to grow in size, one of the problems it has faced is finding enough suitable indoor venues to accommodate the growing number of series that are still within walking distance from the core of the festival, which is at the city's Place des Arts. The Suono Italia series, for example, takes place at Cabaret, a small club that's a good fifteen minute walk from festival headquarters. But it's worth the walk: the series has been uniformly excellent and introduced a wide variety of Italian artists to festival audiences from around the world. The Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur is even further awayanother five minutes past Cabaret. But it's a wonderful venue, set inside an historic church, but with a small but modern room that, seating less than a hundred people, feels more like a house concert than a festival event.
Jean Michel Pilc continued the Piano Solo a Bon Pasteur series, which has been running since the start of the festival. An immensely talented and creative pianist, Pilc is probably best known to North American audiences for his recent trio recording Live at Iridium, New York (Dreyfus Records, 2005). But at his 5 pm show yesterday afternoon, he proved himself equally capable in a solo piano context.
Pilc is a curious reflection of the kind of stream-of-consciousness playing that characterizes Keith Jarrett's solo work, but not everything he performed was pulled out of the ether. Pilc referred to written music at various times throughout the seventy-minute performance. Still, whether he was interpreting Schubert, Ellington, Gershwin, Monk or his own material, including "The Land Suite," he treated even the most through-composed music with a rare degree of freedom.
A dynamic player with incredible dynamic control, shifting from pianissimo to fortissimo in the blink of an eye, his improvisations ranged from serious and thought-provoking to light and humourous. Pilc possesses a dry sense of humour, and he chose to single me out while I was busy taking notes at a point during the show where he actually had the audience clapping along with a quirky but nevertheless rhythmically defined passage. With little choice in front of the one hundred or so attendees, I summarily dropped the pen and brought my hands together along with the rest of the audience. Embarrasing? Yesbut proof that a solo recital can be more than satisfying music; it can be fun as well.
Not all of Pilc's performance was light, however. Capable of converting the most familiar pieces into more abstract music, Pilc played a medley of songs written or made popular in the jazz world by John Coltrane. He introduced individual songs serially, but by the medley's end, they had all magically converged into a truly remarkable integrated whole. When interpreting his own material, he would juxtapose dynamic flourishes of cascading notes with delicate embellishments, exploring the full range of his instrument's possibilitiesincluding pressing on strings inside the piano while pressing the keys to create a staccato effect, and tapping the strings and/or piano body to create a percussive sound that nevertheless also contained an abstract harmonic component.
Some might find a certain melodramatic bravado in Pilc's music. But while he could and sometimes did take things to the extreme, his innate sense of humour almost always prevented him from being taken too seriously. There's no doubt thaat Pilc is a serious musical contender, but by keeping a certain levity with the audience, even during the most powerful parts of the performance, he demonstrated something that the all-too-serious Keith Jarrett, despite his significance as an artist, seems to lack: a self-efacing levity. And that made this show one of many festival highlights.
Drawing on a wealth of material with which most North American audiences are unfamiliar, saxophonist Pietro Tonolo continued the Suono Italia series with a 7 pm performance at Cabaret. As has been the case with the entire series, it continues to present the unique Mediteranean aesthetic of the EGEA label and its roster. While the album from which the material was drawn, Italian Songs (EGEA, 2005), featured a group of North American-based musicians including pianist/accordionist Gil Goldstein, bassist Essiet Okun Essiet and drummer Joe Chambers, only Goldstein was at the performance. Pianist Paolo Birro, bassist Pietro Leveratto and drummer Alfred Kramer fleshed out the ensemble, changing the group's complexion, but the performance were no less compelling than the album.