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The Jean-Michel Pilc Trio at The Jazz Standard, NYC

Budd Kopman By

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The Jean-Michel Pilc Trio at the Jazz Standard
The Jazz Standard
New York City, New York
October 3, 2007

The very air crackled as pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, with his long-time compatriot, drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Christopher Tordini tore through a set in the way only Pilc can.

Having just come out with a new album, New Dreams (Dreyfus, 2007), the pianist devoted part of the set to tunes from that album. However, since the album is, for the most part, on the more reflective, understated and introspective side, the set also had much of the high-energy playing reminiscent of his thunder on Live At Iridium, New York.

Pilc gets a crystalline sound from the piano, and his technique knows no bounds. However, these attributes pale beside the inventiveness and intensity that pervaded the music. The set consisted mostly of long medleys that felt like individual one-act dramas. The music, which continually moved forward with irresistible momentum, came at us in waves.

Within the larger wave were many smaller ones that to these ears are the essence of Pilc's art. While he can rip off a long line as well as anyone else, Pilc constructs a piece by tying together smaller self-contained ideas that are less melodic than architectural. He seems to have an endless font of them, and they connect seamlessly to that which came before and that which follows. The result is improvising that goes way beyond "playing on the changes," entering the realm of instantaneous composition. What is reconstructed mentally and logically nonetheless sounded surprising from moment to moment.

Hoenig is essential in making this turn-on-a-dime method work. Having an intensity that matches Pilc's, the drummer managed to anticipate all of the pianist's dramatic turns and even push back at times. That Hoenig and Pilc have played together for years, explains the high level of musical communication, but the ESP was so exceptional that the music seemed worked out at times.

This latter observation is not meant to be a criticism. Indeed Hoenig told me afterwards that Pilc, though completely in control, does what comes to him in the moment, and it is the drummer's job to react, which could account for the almost continuous eye contact between them. As a result, much of the action centered on the interplay between Pilc and Hoenig. Tordini, a bassist much in demand on the downtown New York scene, seemed to be hanging in there with an entirely different kind of eye contact.

Every jazz performer brings a different kind of intensity to the stage, leaving the audience after the set with varying emotions. Pilc is a heroic player, even when he is playing softly, and he fills the stage radiating energies from himself outward rather than drawing the audience to the performer's introspective self. Hoenig is his perfect partner; together they left us exhilarated.

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