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Live Reviews

Ottawa Jazz Festival, Days 4-6: June 26-28, 2011

By Published: June 30, 2011

June 28: Pilc/Moutin/Hoenig

The final day of Ottawa coverage (with six more days left in the festival) couldn't have wrapped up better than a first-time visit to the Improv Invitational Series at the National Arts Centre's intimate, club-like Fourth Stage for an incendiary 90 minutes of freewheeling improvisation by pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Ari Hoenig
Ari Hoenig
Ari Hoenig
. It's been nearly a decade since the trio released Welcome Home (Dreyfus, 2002), and all three players have been busy as sidemen and leaders, with Pilc releasing powerful trio recordings like True Story (Dreyfus, 2010), Moutin continuing his ongoing Moutin Reunion Quartet with twin brother/drummer Louis on Soul Dancers (Plus Loin, 2010), and Hoenig growing his discography as a leader with Live at Smalls (Smalls, 2010). Sparks tend to fly, no matter what project these tremendously talented players are pursuing, but when they come together as a trio, there's a particular kind of chemistry that makes for even greater excitement.

Jean-Michel Pilc

"This isn't a trio," said Pilc in the first break after an absolutely exhilarating 45 minutes of improvisational free play that found the trio exploring everything from hard groove and out-of-time expressionism to surprising lyricism and unfettered humor. "It's actually a solo by someone with six arms, six legs, three heads...and I'll stop there as I might get into trouble." Pilc didn't speak much more, but the quick wit he demonstrated when saying, as he returned to the stage with his partners after 85 minutes and an enthusiastic standing ovation from the capacity crowd— "Jazz may be dead, but we're not. Please spread the word; we need to make more money"—reflected a similar Puckish approach to the trio's music.

Not that these aren't anything but serious players. Pilc has, since emerging on the French scene in the early 1990s, delivered album after album of detailed compositional forethought, recklessly unpredictable extemporization and quirky deconstruction, all bolstered by impeccable technique and a touch that seems light but doesn't preclude muscular activity when necessary. Moutin has long demonstrated a penchant for translating the late fretless electric bassist Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
' potent grooves and visceral lyricism to acoustic bass with Moutin Reunion—though that group is informed, in equal parts, by an adherence to tradition and reverence for legacy artists ranging from saxophonists Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
to John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
—but it's his absolutely unshackled ideas that flow, like an endless stream, and keep that group's greater adherence to form unfailingly exciting, a freedom that he explores more profoundly with Pilc and Hoenig. Hoenig, the youngest of the three, is a drummer who, in his sheer joie de vivre, makes anything he does some serious fun, but supported by an almost unparalleled melodic approach to his small kit.

From left: François Moutin, Ari Hoenig

After a bright opening that saw idea after idea explored, with the smallest motif inspiring shifts into completely different directions, the trio turned to darker, balladic territory, for one of many revelations in a set going from one highpoint to another. Using his elbow to press down on his drums to change the pitch, Hoenig challenged convention by becoming the melodic lead, with Moutin holding down the pulse and Pilc providing spare harmonic support. Even when the mood was introspective and the ambience haunting, humor was never far away, as a sudden shift found the trio swinging furiously, with Hoenig's brushes driving knotty unison lines from Pilc and Moutin. Clearly, this was music with no shortage of open-ended possibilities, but there was also an underlying roadmap, with plenty of cues—largely invisible to any but the most attentive spectator—that gave the trio's extended workouts shape, and a narrative that kept the audience on its toes every moment.

Ari Hoenig

There seemed to be no end to where this group could go and, amidst the myriad of thematic touchstones, the trio often ended up in the most unexpected places as Pilc, in the midst of some particularly outrageous extroversion, suddenly found himself thinking of Christmas in June, driving the group into a brief quip from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Near-telepathic chemistry made for a set where, as Pilc suggested, the trio truly acted as one body—not just in the clearly scripted places but, even more excitingly, when eye contact and subtle body movement alone were enough to ensure that this beast with six arms and six legs stopped, started and shifted tempo at the drop of a hat, from incendiary swing to slow, gritty funk and punk rock—or, as Hoenig calls his own group, Punk Bop. It's hard to explain exactly what the music of Pilc/Moutin/Hoenig is, but after Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman's sublime duo set the night before, this trio posited an entirely different approach to collective interplay, one where the whole is not just greater than the sum of its parts, but where it truly is, indeed, a single entity, three players moving as one, regardless of the context.

Visit Kurt Elling , Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Gambale, RTF IV, Jean-Michel Pilc, François Moutin, Ari Hoenig and the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credit
John Kelman

Days 1-3 | Days 4-6

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