Improvisation is often associated with freedom, but beware of appearances. When inspiration strikes, music has a way to lead you from one moment to the next that gives you no choice but to follow the flow.
Spontaneity may well be the most important element of jazz expression, the immediacy of creativity in its purest and most adventurous manifestation. For the extraordinary pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, this live performance represents the pinnacle of that level of spontaneity. In his outstanding new release on Justin Time Records, Alive – Live at Dièse Onze, Montréal, Jean-Michel and his bandmates Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and Jim Doxas on bass and drums respectively, splendidly offer proof of this concept; “improvising musicians in their natural habitat, the jazz club, playing music for the sake of music, never repeating themselves, and creating sounds that they will never replicate.”
This concert, recorded in June 2021, marked the trio’s first performance since the onset of the COVID pandemic. “The music was vital, to us and to the audience, and we experienced the full gamut of human emotions.” Collective improvisation is often dismissed as a method of haphazardness and serendipity, hoping that things may work out and expecting the audience to simply enjoy the adventure. But in the hands of superb musicians united by purpose, the results can be exhilarating, utterly captivating and tremendously uplifting. That is certainly the case here.
The music contains endlessly delightful surprises woven seamlessly into the intricate fabric within the individual pieces themselves. Two Miles Davis classics provide excellent examples … from the sheer simplicity of lyricism in "Nardis," like a consistently evolving, but persistently gentle snowfall of filigreed delicacy; to the rumbling and rolling "All Blues," escalating into a two-fisted romp that culminates in a scalding rapid-fire explosion of breathtaking intensity and ferocity. The Hammerstein/Romberg song that became a jazz standard "Softly," as in a "Morning Sunrise" passes through so many stages of musical evolution, from its fragments of melody Tristano-ish opening through thunderous crescendos that never lose the sensitivity of the song, and culminating in a tantalizingly slow bluesy swing evoking the territories explored by Bud Powell and Herbie Nichols. A pair of Pilc originals are also included – "11 Sharp," a highly rhythmic, somewhat Monkishly grooved excursion, consistently evolving in melodic variety and emotional intensity; and the title piece "Alive," an evocative, persistently explorative foray in gently insistent lyricism, which ends this wonderful album on a subtly provocative note.
The concert was recorded in its entirely and the remainder of the music is available in digital form only. You can find the complete 2nd set on your favorite streaming or download site and for more information at Justin Time Records.