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Jean-Michel Pilc Trio at the Douglas Beach House in Half Moon Bay

Bill Leikam By

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Jean-Michel Pilc Trio
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, California
January 25, 2009



Jean-Michel Pilc's fingers popped over the keyboard with an opening ferocity that awoke the Sunday audience, as though he were defying the listener not to be impressed by his piano style. He tends to put his whole body into playing, drawing from the piano a crystalline clarity that not many pianists can bring forth from the keys. More often than not, Pilc laced the tunes with ample, playful and exuberant improvisation, inviting the audience to join him in the adventure of creating the music in real time. Though separated in space, Ari Hoenig and Pilc were constantly linked telepathically across the stage, neither taking their eyes off of the other, as Hans Glawischnig's bass tied the two together, serving to wire the trio of creative minds into an indissoluble whole. Occasionally, Pilc stopped playing, staring across the space, intently listening and watching Hoenig, then sliding in on the keys to match Hoenig's beats. At other times, Pilc nailed a line, then abruptly stopped playing and walked away from the piano as if to take a breather, allowing Hoenig and Glawischnig to carry the music.



In contrast with more traditional jazz performances, the trio did not follow the customary approach of running through a series of individual solos—piano, then bass, then drums. Their collaborative, or interactive, constructions allowed few times when the audience could applaud an individual's accomplishment and, in my mind, proved a refreshing change, allowing the music to surge and flow without predictable distractions or interruptions. In the second set, on what sounded like the standard "Autumn Leaves," Pilc invoked classical strains, or rather alternated between classical delinations and more relaxed and grooving jazz strains. At other times—Coltrane's "Afro-Blue," for instance— Hoenig and Pilc pounded off of each other as if engaged in a physical, percussive contest for dominance, before seamlessly flowing back into a quiet, delicate dialog. Crucial to such sudden and dramatic changes was Glawischnig's bass, which rooted the other two musicians in a firm, unshakable foundation.

This was the trio's first California venue on this leg of their West Coast tour, and to some extent this evening's performance demonstrated they were just getting into the groove. Nonetheless, at the end of both sets, the audience, which had largely remained silent during individual numbers and restrained throughout the set, rose and heartily applauded. Their enthusiasm was well-deserved: Jean-Michel Pilc's trio is worth seeing whenever the opportunity presents itself.


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