Jean-Michel Pilc: New Dreams (2007)
From the first notes of the opening tune "But Not For Me" on the wonderful New Dreams, you know that pianist Jean-Michel Pilc is a master improviser. What he does goes way, way beyond the changes and involves getting at the most essential kernel of the tune. Finding it, he can mutate it in countless ways because he knows that we can hear its connection to the tune, all the while holding our mental breaths as he darts away from it, until we exhale when he comes back.
Another effect that is naturally derived from Pilc's method is the humor that underlies the seriousness of the enterprise. This is important, since it makes the experience complete in that it simultaneously makes Pilc more human and accessible (rather than a dazzling pianist playing from the mountaintop) and brings the listener inside the experience. Both parts of Pilc's style are displayed most readily, as expected, on the standards.
New Dreams is different from his previous release Live At Iridium, New York (Dreyfus, 2005) and, for that matter, the gig that introduced a number of originals from this album, in that the tracks tend to be shorter and more concentrated. Pilc's penchant for building huge structures by interlocking ideas that seem to arise out of nowhere, and yet are completely logical within context, is done on a much smaller scale.
The heroic Pilc storms to the fore in "Satin Doll," which also is the longest track. What is quite audible is that Pilc does not know what is going to happen until it does and drummer Ari Hoenig, who has played with Pilc for many years, is locked in tightly, pushing back as much as he is being pulled. The effect is electric, and happens again on Monk's "Straight No Chaser."
In an interview Pilc discusses finding the balance between technique and music making and being "able to hear yourself while you're playing, be an outside listener, kind of. When you have that 'body double' experience, you know you are in the right zone because everything becomes immaterial, sound and feelings which go with it." He goes on to say that he records himself playing to be able to listen to it later. From the difference between how it felt when actually playing and how he feels when listening to it, Pilc has developed the instinct to know "this is right" when playing.
Pilc also talks about how the music flows through him, and how, while playing he is not thinking and has no concepts. All the best players strive for this, and the listener knows when it is happening at a gig.
That the music is flowing through Pilc can be heard even on the more introspective pieces on New Dreams, and the force which he has worked to channel his music really does reach out and touch you. Allowing it to happen makes the hour of listening golden.
Track Listing: But Not For Me; A Child Is Born; Trees Part I; Hummingbirds; New Dreams; Satin Doll; Widmung; Old Joe; Action; The Meadow; Burning Path; The Brook; Simplicity; Straight No Chaser; Trees Part 2.
Personnel: Jean-Michel Pilc: piano; Thomas Bramerie: bass; Ari Hoenig: drums (1-6, 9, 14, 15); Mark Mondesir: drums (7, 10-13).