By Ed Enright | April 2022 | Downbeat |4 1/2 Stars
Jean-Michel Pilc prefers to fly without a net. A prolific pianist-composer and unpredictable improviser who excels at perpetual invention and is known for performing spellbinding solo sets with no set lists, he’s joined on his debut album for Justin Time by bassist Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and drummer Jim Doxas — longtime trio mates who, like their leader, strive for spontaneous expression in everything they play as a unit. Performing for a COVID-weary, jazz-starved audience at Montreal’s prestigious Dièse Onze jazz club last June, the group takes standards like “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” and Miles Davis’ “Nardis” and “All Blues” on long thrill-rides of creative deconstruction. Two Pilc originals — the quirky swinger “11 Sharp” and the gentle, lyrical title track — provide even more surprises as the trio takes listeners on dynamic adventures through an ever-evolving landscape of unexpected plot-twists and sudden style-shifts. But for all the merits of these exceptional players and their sophisticated musical interactions, it’s the overall emotional impact of the performance that makes Alive–Live At Dièse Onze, Montréal such a powerful and important document. The music is joyously uplifting — exhilarating, even — and covers a full gamut of intricacies and nuances that add up to a delightful and satisfying set. It was an amazing night, and the enthusiastic vibe enveloping the room translates nicely into album form. This is collective improvisation at its absolute best, with virtuoso-level artists in their natural habitat, the jazz club, playing music for its own sake. The Dièse Onze concert was recorded in its entirety, and the remainder of the music — the complete second set — is available in digital form for streaming and download. The additional material includes three more Davis-affiliated tracks (Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and the standards “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “My Funny Valentine”) along with an intricate romp through the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” a whimsical version of “All The Things You Are,” a lovely take on “My Romance” and an explosive journey into John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” For more information on Jean-Michel Pilc and Alive–Live At Dièse Onze, Montréal, see our upcoming article in the June 2022 issue of DownBeat (print and digital editions).