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Follow Me by Jean-Michel Pilc

Jean-Michel Pilc moved to the U.S. from Paris to carve out a career as a jazz pianist, and he has done remarkably well, capturing the attention of journalists, winning awards, signing recording deals and touring. Just as exciting as Pilc’s unpredictability on the piano, with his splashing chords and runaway improvisational lines giving merely a hint of his quickness of thought, is the camaderie of his trio, which includes François Moutin on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. Meeting in that great jazz melting pot of New York City, the three of them formed one of the astounding jazz piano trios of the past decade, egalitarian and supremely imaginative in nature, even as they seemed to seep slowly into the listening public’s consciousness through two remarkable Live At Sweet Basil CD’s. Then the trio moved to the French-based Dreyfus Jazz label in 2002 for even greater recognition.

Now, Pilc has gone back to Paris and recorded alone. That is, without bass and drums anyway. Follow Me is his first solo album. Just as Cardinal Points represented a deepening of his talent through his production of thematically related original compositions with the addition of horn and percussion, rather than using standards as the bases for deconstruction, Follow Me swerves into an opposing direction of simplification, a distillation of the music into essential components, as well as the interspersing of French songs among the standards and the new tunes Pilc wrote. It appears that Jacky Terrasson followed the same path, for when he recorded in his native country, the result referred as well to the French songs of his childhood, altered with a jazz sensibility, much as Pilc’s does.

The CD starts simply enough with Pilc’s title song, which is outlined in music-box fashion before successive key changes and deepening harmonic voicings as a greater expanse of the keyboard is employed. Several of the other tunes on Follow Me attain the same type of dedication to the directness of song, including the next one on the CD, "Les Amants D’Un Jour." That song and "Les Copains D’Abord" initially are constructed along sketchy lines before the implications of those first themes of the songs unfold. "Les Amants D’Un Jour" begins as delicately as "Follow Me," its 3/4 charm leading into darker chords with ominous dissonance midway through and then a climactic smashing of notes. Likewise, "Les Copains D’Abord" lays out the melody in the upper register before the counterweight of the deep bass lines contrast until the bass notes become thunderous and the melody less straightforward.

In the midst of the CD, Pilc includes some standards, bending them to his will as he is wont to do, though all of the tracks average but three minutes. "Oleo," after Pilc gives us an upsweep of his tornadic work, leaves devastation in its path after only a minute and a half. But Pilc includes some memorable moments in some of those tracks, particularly during "My Favorite Things," which moves from dampened strings to lengthening of phrases with dramatic conclusions at the ends of choruses. Pilc includes tributes to Bill Evans ("B Minor Waltz"), traditional blues ("St. Louis Blues") and Fats Waller ("Ain’t Misbehavin’"), but always with his own twists that you don’t see coming. Continuing to be one of the current jazz scene’s more interesting pianists, Jean-Michel Pilc has added another dimension to his musical profile with the release of Follow Me. Where Pilc goes on his next CD as we follow his career should be just as interesting since his career choices (in France, he was a scientist) are just as unpredictable as his musical adventures.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jean-Michel Pilc
  • CD Title: Follow Me
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Dreyfus Jazz
  • Tracks: Follow Me, Le Amants D’Un Jour, St. Louis Blues, My Favorite Things, If I Should Lose You, St. James Infirmary, Happiness Seven, One For My Baby, The Racoon, Autumn Leaves, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Beaver Dam, Vous Qui Passez Sans Me Voir, B Minor Waltz, Oleo, Les Copains D’Abord
  • Musicians: Jean-Michel Pilc (piano)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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