Jean-Michel Pilc: Essential

This intimate solo album, recorded live at the Fazioli Piano Loft of the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, N.J., captures pianist Jean-Michel Pilc during two nights of pure improvisation. The former Parisian, a New Yorker since 1995, made his name with his acclaimed trio featuring bassist François Moutin and drummer Ari Hoenig. Here, Pilc, known for his remarkable technique and fondness for the unpredictable, adventurously reinvents standards such as “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Blue in Green” and “I Remember You,” tackling Chopin’s “Waltz No. 3 in A Minor” and presenting a number of new originals with equal parts skill, gusto and creativity. Also included is video from a private session held during the same engagement.

Pilc opens his bold rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” with a thunderous roar; he then mutes and taps his instrument’s strings, going in and out of the melody as he alternates rumbling, angular and delicate sonorities. A brief, enigmatic remake of the folk ballad “Scarborough Fair” conjures an amusing yet spine-chilling theme park; similarly hopeful and ominous moods simultaneously permeate “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Several of Pilc’s own tunes are infused with a like tension between playfulness and reflection, navigating the ethereal, lyrical and discordant: The title track, a tender blues ballad, is tinged with dissonance, and a series of six “Etudes-Tableaux” traverses European classical music, boogie, bop, pop and beyond. Pilc’s spirited version of “Mack the Knife” closes the set with his unique humor and elegance. Clearly in the moment, Pilc delivers a captivating set filled with unexpected twists and turns.