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Pilc-Moutin-Hoenig Trio: Washington, D.C. May 17, 2011

Franz A. Matzner By

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Jean-Michel Pilc / Ari Hoenig / François Moutin
Blues Alley
Washington, D.C.
May 17, 20011

Tumultuous, unpredictable, vibrant with variegated rhythms and tempos, shimmering with torrents of sound and spiraling tendrils of color, the Pilc-Moutin-Hoenig Trio's recent performance at Blues Alley proceeded less like an unveiling and more like the exploding of a star—the event emitting a creative shock wave of force, overlapping forms, light, darkness, expanding and contracting space.

The resonating artistic experience created by the Pilc-Moutin-Hoenig Trio is not the product of a carefully constructed composition, nor does it find its underpinnings in the practiced reworking of traditional jazz standards. It is achieved by the shared creative will of longtime band mates Pilc, Francois Moutin, and Ari Hoenig, brought forth sui generis in the moment of each performance. This was composition akin to spontaneous combustion, each moment devouring itself within the birth of the next in a conflagration of self-expression.

No set lists. No tunes. No preconceptions. Instead, undiluted improvisation. When an artist accomplishes this over a single solo, it is impressive. When it is repeated song after song, it is astounding. What separates the Pilc-Moutin-Hoenig Trio is that the band as a unit accomplishes this feat night after night, achieving the freedom and integration often sought after by jazz ensembles, but only rarely fulfilled. Even rarer is when that collective freedom produces a musical experience as emotively convincing and structurally sound, as the trio achieved in its recent performance. Instead of a series of tunes, the audience at Blues Alley was treated to a single continuous, spontaneously created work. Certainly, components of traditional jazz material and some past Pilc compositions could be identified, including "Nardis," "Beginning to See the Light," "Giant Steps," and others. But these components emerged the way common terminology manifests in a conversation, used as references, signals, touchstones and springboards, lasting only briefly before the band shifted in a wholly new direction, often into dramatically uncharted territory. The result was a richly populated musical universe that seemed to breathe in the mind like a physical reality.

One moment during the set's third "movement" began with a short, repeated lyrical phrase accompanied by a gentle, almost abstract rhythm on toms and open snare, Pilc and Hoenig painted a landscape of openness and calm, a minimalist excursion of reflection almost pastoral in character. Capturing the theme, Moutin launched a small waterfall of notes, letting them drip slowly across Pilc's repeated phrase like droplets off tree branches. Without warning, Hoenig changed directions, sending an erratic pattern of snare and rim shots scampering across the soft bed of Moutin's bass line, disrupting Pilc's piano melody. In response, Pilc mimicked the run, adding a series of stronger strokes in the bass register to convert the light pattern into the stomping tread of a lumbering beast. Moutin and Hoenig responded in turn, adding new layers of texture, increasing the dynamics, inserting longer, denser runs, shifting the tempo, joining all these rivulets into a torrent of sound formed out of the now submerged initial phrase. All of this in just a few moments, and the pattern continued over the course of the entire night, one idea spurring the next in a fluid evolution.

Each band member describes the phenomena they have created in differing terms, but all identify freedom and trust as the foundations.

The dedicated iconoclast, Pilc, distrustful of words and definitions, objects to the premise of classification stating, "The idea for us is to create a piece of music on the spot. People are obsessed by the 'what.' What is this? What is that? For us, it is more about how we play. If we play well, we are happy. If we don't, we are not. That is the way to do it. [It] took us time to find out we needed that absolute freedom to really express ourselves. I think what we do is that we don't know what we do. We leave it up to the music. The less we know the best we will play. So that is why sometimes when people ask me what is this, what is that, I say, 'I don't know and I don't want to know.' I want to be as innocent as I can become. If I could revert to complete childhood, I think that would be ideal."

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