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A Conversation with Jean-Michel Pilc

Franz A. Matzner By

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For me, music is like love. It?s a mystery and it should remain a mystery. And if you try to break the mystery, you break the thing itself.
Following-up the critically acclaimed trio album Welcome Home, Paris-born composer and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc recently released the stunning album, Cardinal Points, showcasing eight original compositions, including the extended work 'Trio Sonata.' The album was recorded by both Pilc's standing trio and a new quartet, and offers ambitious material of impressive density, depth, and determination. Already well established as a resourceful improviser, Cardinal Points confirms Jean-Michel Pilc as one of today's pre-eminent jazz composers.

It was my distinct privilege to speak with Jean-Michel last week about the album's genesis, as well as many other topics, including his decision to make his home in Brooklyn. A valuable speaker and restless thinker, Pilc comfortably shifts from the most concrete to the most abstract of ideas, examining both with disarming ease, confidence, and openness. Pilc never seems satisfied with the easy, expected answer, a propensity which often led us into unexpected territory.

All About Jazz: I think the best place to begin is with the new release. It's a very complex album. There seems to be a tremendous collision of influences, and I don't just mean genre wise. You can hear a lot of musical voices from a lot of regions being blended together. I was wondering if you could go into the genesis of the album a little?

Jean-Michel Pilc: Well, first of all I don't really sit and decide to write an album of music. I don't really work that way. As an artist, I don't believe in intentionality, or music with a concept. It may not be the answer you were hoping for, but I have to be honest, right? It's like sex, the less you are wearing the better it is.

[Laughing]

JMP: Or to put it another way, it's the difference between the talk of politicians and normal persons. If you listen to politicians, in their speeches they have intentions and concepts in what they are saying. They sound very convincing. Actually they convince lots of people with what they are saying. But they don't sound normal. If you listen to them, they will never, ever, ever sound like normal people expressing themselves. Or very rarely. It's very special when they do. Everybody knows they are lying . But when a normal person talks to you, you just listen to what the person says in a very natural way. You don't need to be convinced. There's no [intention] in what they are saying, its just human communication'more basic. For me, music is interesting when it falls into the second category, not into the first. I have this problem with people who have lots of concepts and intentions in music. I think it sounds like politics. It sounds like they are trying to convince people with a whole bag of tricks, and for me music is much more simple than that. It's an expression of my voice and if I convince people with it'I hope I do'it's not my goal. I have no goal, actually. I have no choice. I'm just speaking with my own voice and if this is to the liking of some people listening, then great. It's a very natural process. I'm like a little child when music goes through me. I'm just a little child that lets music go through me and I don't have any concept, intention, or goal. I'm just a music emitter. All those things on the record are things that I hear, and things that I feel. It's based on the feeling, not on a goal or a concept. Those words are really foreign to me.

AAJ: What you're bringing up is quite interesting to me. This idea of a 'music emitter' or a conduit. I'm fascinated by the connection between music and the unconscious, and the way music is used in a lot of religious, mystical, and other, ceremonies to circumvent the conscious.

JMP: For me, I'm a complete atheist. I have no mystical strength in me at all. Really. I say I'm an atheistic person. I don't believe in god. I just believe that nature'whatever you call it'gave us an incredible tool which is the human brain and that tool has'over millions and billions of years'come to a point where this tool is even stronger than yourself. [This] means there are whole parts of your brain which function that you don't know anything about that people call the unconscious. But I think it is even more than that. It's the whole thing that works in you that you are not aware of. I think music is a powerful medium to access that energy that you have no consciousness about'this dark energy that I call it sometimes. You let it out in the purest, most authentic way, the most moving way, and that's one of the strengths of music. That's what people call inspiration. The music comes out of you and you have no idea why it comes out, where it comes from. Sometimes when I play I feel as if I'm not playing anymore, as if I'm standing on the stage and the music is just going through me.

AAJ: So many musicians'artists of every kind'describe similar things. There's a point at which the language starts speaking you.

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