Jean-Michel Pilc had jazz piano enthuasiasts all agog during the last three years as a mostly East Coast cult following developed. With an imagination that seems to run wild and with the technique to realize what his imagination dictates, Pilc left audiences in New York clubs wildly applauding for more. His previous CD’s--Together: Live at Sweet Basil Volumes 1 and 2
and Welcome Home
--confirmed that Pilc had much to say musically and that those few CD’s were just the tip of the iceberg. His sneak-attack appearances on other artists’ CD’s, like J.D. Walter’s, fed the appetite for more of his recorded work. For, all of a sudden, a jazz pianist appeared whose personal vision, unpredictability, startling attack and harmonic complexity excited crowds as did Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Jacky Terrasson and D.D. Jackson in similar degrees. Now, with the release of Cardinal Points,
complete with an associated touring schedule, Pilc is being discovered throughout much of the rest of the United States as well.
But Cardinal Points
is different from his previous recordings. For one thing, Pilc has added Sam Newsome on sopano sax, rather than going it alone as a piano trio, suffiient though such a hornless group may be. And he has recorded approximately half of Cardinal Points
without the regulars: the, well frankly, amazing François Moutin on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. Such is telepathy of those three that not only do they reflect each others’ thoughts, but they also anticipate
them as well, in a way that the most memorable jazz piano trios do the same thing. That trio brings to life the movements of Pilc’s "Trio Sonata" in four parts. The spark and daring are present during many of the high points of those parts, such as when the intial motive of "Part 1," formed by handclaps, comes unglued percussively in a free section that leads into a swing made irresistible by Moutin’s bass lines.
But like Terrasson and Jackson, Pilc has moved on from his initial trio explorations, featuring for the most part blistering technique on tunes like "Tea for Two" or "So What," to more arranged and more subdued works that reveal another side of his personality. Cardinal Points
is Pilc’s first CD on which he can present his compositions in a connected fashion, instead of as part of a series of original tunes mixed with standards. In the first half of Cardinal Points,
Pilc has involved, in addition to Newsome, James Genus on bass and Abdou M’Boup on percussion. Concerned more with sustained touch and thematic variations, Pilc’s other connected work consists of "South," "West," "North" and, yes, "East" too. Painting his own images which those points of the compass represent, for reasons known only to himself, Pilc finds the North to be fairly dark in a minor-keyed sort of way with Newsome’s sinewy soprano sax lines sketching the scene. On the other hand, South starts with distant whistling that evolves into a polyrhythmic celebration over an uncomplicated melody.
Duke Ellington’s "Mood Indigo" is the only work penned by someone other than Pilc, and of course he ensures that he imprints his own stylistic stamp on the tune with chord substitutions and rumbling crescendoes and a minor-to-major-key seesawing.Cardinal Points
represents a transitional recording for Jean-Michel Pilc as he moves on from the trio recordings that reveal how he was wowing live audiences in New York. Given the liberty to write his own material and record it in a way that he wishes to present it--particularly "Trio Sonata," which was sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation--Pilc has chosen to feature compositional unity over requisite displays technical virtuosity. And it’s anybody’s guess what he will record on his next CD, although perhaps it could be expected that he would write longer works, rather than the two shorter thematic works separated by the three tracks on Cardinal Points.