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Jean-Michel Pilc: True Story

Karl Ackermann By

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Jean-Michel Pilc has yet to achieve a US prominence that compares to his fellow French jazz pianists, the late Michel Petrucciani and Algerian-born Martial Solal. While both of the latter musicians are frequently cited for their lightning-fast delivery, Pilc shares their agility as well as a finely honed ear for lyricism. But ultimately, Pilc is a different kind of player, interpreter and personality. He counters his own expressive side with a particular state of off-kilter playing that doesn't necessarily allow for mere contentment. Good for him, and for others who don't believe a jazz composition needs to be applicable to the stereotypes of a solitary style. Pilc continues to challenge and enlighten on True Story.

True Story is Pilc's best offering since Welcome Home (Dreyfus 2001) and his solo disc, Follow Me( Dreyfus 2003). While his ambidextrous technical skills are still on display, Pilc has lightened his feel in the lower register so that he sounds less like McCoy Tyner sharing the piano bench with Fred Hersch. Pilc's relatively new trio—with the great Billy Hart on drums and Russian bassist Boris Kozlov—provides resounding drive when asked, and subtle support when Pilc's playing commands the experience. The collection opens with Pilc's "The Other Night," a slow, striking ballad, followed by the pianist's arrangement of Franz Schubert's "Relic." The juxtaposition is an example of what distinguishes Pilc's creative viewpoint, with the Schubert composition eventually breaking out into the most adventurous improvisational ground of the two opening pieces.

"High Sky-The Elegant Universe" combines Pilc's two primary sensibilities, displaying a classically influenced melody combined with a free improvisational subtext. The two styles randomize throughout the piece without losing coherence or the overall premise. "Mornings With Franz" is another ballad, demonstrating Pilc's more lyrical side as well as his apparent affinity for Schubert. Further into the collection, Kozlov and Hart have their first opportunity for extended solos on "B.B.B.," an overall freer setting than most of the other tracks. However, True Story is centered on Pilc's performance, with Kozlov and Hart clearly in supporting roles. The title piece is a five-part composition that closes the collection and incorporates the various styles and techniques that Pilc employs throughout the recording.

Writing twelve of the fifteen pieces on True Story, Pilc's compositional skills can't be overstated. Coming to terms with Pilc, as a presence on the jazz scene remains challenging, but is not exclusive territory for artists of any nature or venue. Where Pilc excels beyond that particular debate is in the unique set of skills and sensibilities that he brings to the table. Dreyfus Records founder, Francis Dreyfus, died on June 24, 2010. He had an eclectic mission for his label, signing such diverse talents as Petrucciani, Ahmad Jamal and Steve Grossman. True Story was likely one of the last recordings Dreyfus produced, and it's likely that Pilc's contribution greatly appealed to his producer's creative and open vision.


Track Listing: The Other Night; Relic; PBH Factor; A Brief History of Time; High Sky: The Elegant Universe; Mornings With Franz; Kingston NY; Try to Remember; BBB; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; True Story Scene 1; True Story Scene 2; True Story Scene 3; True Story Scene 4; True Story Scene 5.

Personnel: Jean-Michel Pilc: piano; Boris Kozlov: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Title: True Story | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Dreyfus Records

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