While pianist Jean-Michel Pilc may not be taking the jazz world by storm in terms of public recognition, he certainly takes an audience by storm during live performances.
With the release of "Live At Sweet Basil, Vol. 1", and with the upcoming release in November of "Vol. 2", Pilc's fortunes certainly will change. He's a force at the piano who without a doubt can't be denied. Seemingly appreciated by a rather small coterie of enthusiasts and critics in the know, Pilc stands ready to break out of the box and allow the immensity of his talent to be recognized.
This is no hyperbole. You really do have to hear "Live At Sweet Basil, Vol. 1" or any other Pilc CD to appreciate the dynamism and imagination that springs forth once he touches a piano's keys in front of an audience. From the critics' quotes I've read, they're struggling to describe the physicality of his approach and the unpredictability of his performances. Even on CD's where he's an accompanist, like J.D. Walter's or Richard Bona's, the listener is left wondering, "Who is the pianist?"
Now we know.
Moving from Europe to New York in 1995, Pilc has been building his reputation and contacts ever since as he plays the clubs and tours the festivals. His working trio with François Moutin on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums finally is breaking out with a live performance recorded in two parts at Sweet Basil in October of last year.
What is it that critics are raving about? What is it that they aren't raving about?
On the first track of "Live At Sweet Basil", Pilc starts with substitutions right off the bat as he deconstructs the melody into harmonic similarities, pulls and lets snap the tempo, and unblushingly dramatizes with a driven passion the story that he's telling. Sometimes, he reminds the listener of Jacky Terrasson's very percussive and elastic approach to standards; indeed, both Pilc and Terrasson have worked with percussion phenomenon Leon Parker. Sometimes, Pilc reminds the listener of Brad Mehldau as he swaps melody or phrasing between hands, as if one is independently inspired by the other. On "Runaway", for example, his hands go positively independent, scampering and pouncing multi-directionally in a vertiginous (for the listener) fashion against Moutin's and Hoenig's straight four tempo. "C Jam Blues", complex in its simplicity and suggestiveness, leads Pilc into a full keyboard romp, at first giving no hint of the tune that underlies it and eventually developing into phrases of repetitive descent.
Where are Moutin and Hoenig during these unceasing torrents of sound? Well, they're expanding upon Pilc's storming around the piano with sometimes an independence of free improvisation capable only from a practiced group of exceptional musicians who understand each other. On "Together", within which they introduce themselves personally to the audience, the group fires off unison machine-gunning of notes until a truce, and thus ease, results.
Pilc's talent is such that it leaves the listeners agog and the critics wordless.
Well, not quite. Writers have to write something, whether the words are equal to the music or not. But "Live At Sweet Basil, Vol. 1" is in a class unto itself, stunning the listener to attention. Like other writers, I'm glad to have heard Jean-Michel Pilc at a relatively early stage in his career before the inevitable buzz surrounds him.