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Jean-Michel Pilc: Alive: Live at Dièse Onze, Montreal (Justin Time)

A review of the live recording of the pianist-led trio's first public performance since the beginning of the pandemic

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Jean-Michel Pilc: Alive: Live at Dièse Onze, Montreal (Justin Time)
The cover Alive: Live at Dièse Onze, Montreal by Jean-Michel Pilc

Jean-Michel Pilc made this recording on June 26, 2021, at a jazz club in Montreal. It was the first time his trio with bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and drummer Jim Doxas had performed in public since the pandemic began.

Pilc is a pianist known for relentless creative energy, but this night in Montreal was an especially electric occasion. You feel the explosive release of the trio’s pent-up need to play. You feel the excitement when the crowd’s pent-up need for music is fulfilled.

In his liner notes, Pilc says, “Since a while ago, all my concerts are totally improvised—no set list, nothing prepared, just let the music lead the way.” Usually “totally improvised” means no standards. But for Pilc, the music often “leads the way” to familiar pieces, which he uses as stimuli for vast, spontaneous outpourings. “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” starts with thick dark chords. Pilc releases the melody in lurches and spurts, then soars away in huge swirling free forms. You think he has abandoned the song forever, but over the course of 14 wild minutes he keeps careening back to it. It is a rush when you hear it ring out within his crescendos.

Miles Davis’ “Nardis” is an inherently exuberant, uplifting tune. Pilc first turns it ethereal. He opens with a gentle, hovering new prologue. After three minutes the theme appears, not as its familiar joyous outbreak, but as a pensive question. With Pilc, all moods are transitory. By the end, “Nardis” has become crashing block chords. Another Davis composition, “All Blues,” is present, but only subliminally, throughout Pilc’s 11-minute maelstrom.

If Jean-Michel Pilc leaves you cold, you may only think you like jazz piano. If you are not moved by his boundless vitality, you may only think you like life.

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Jean-Michel Pilc: Self-Taught, Still Learning

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.