by Karl Nehring
American Stories. Richard Danielpour: Four Angels; James Lee III: Quintet; Ben Shirley: High Sierra Sonata; Valerie Coleman: Shotgun Houses. Anthony McGill, clarinet; Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, violin; Austin Hartman, violin; Mark Holloway, viola; Brandon Vamos, cello). Cedille CDR 90000 216
Symphony: Jean-Michel Pilc. Leaving; Discovery; The Encounter; First Dance; Just Get Up; Way to Go; Understanding; Waltz for Xose; Not Falling This Time; I’ll Be Back. Jean-Michel Pilc, piano. Justin Time Records JTR 8632-2
Some readers may be familiar with the music of the legendary pianist Keith Jarrett, who throughout his long career has released numerous live concert performance recordings of improvised solo piano music for the ECM label; a review of one of those releases, The Bordeaux Concert, can be read here. Moreover, Jarrett fans – and even those who are not necessarily Jarrett fans but who have an interest in beholding musical genius, not to mention a moving human interest story – should find this extended in-depth interview with Jarrett by the delightful YouTube musical personality and fount of information Rick Beato to be both illuminating and heartwarming.
But now we have another recording of improvised solo piano music to audition and enjoy. In November, 2021, the French jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc (b. 1960), who now resides in Canada, had just finished a recording session in a Portuguese studio for an album by a Spanish saxophonist. He really liked the studio, the acoustics, the Steinway, and the overall vibe, so he asked whether he could take some extra studio time to improvise at the keyboard. The saxophonist gave the go-ahead and the sound engineer agreed to record while Pilc played. Pilc says of the session, “Without any intention other than making music, I started playing. When inspiration sets in, you leave the 'real world' and music leads you through a new universe of its own. That’s what happened, and when I stopped, everyone was so enthusiastic about the result that they generously offered to mix and master it carefully for a future release which they said was inevitable. After listening to it myself, I agreed with their assessment. So here it is, and I hope the listener will go on the same journey I did that day.” That journey is one of discovery, exploring harmonies on the keyboard, going down different melodic trails to see where they might lead, but along the way, never losing sight of the idea of melody. Although the header above reads like a list of songs, the album does not sound like that; rather, ideas shift, tempos change, but in general, the album has an overall flow to it that does not sound entirely like a collection of discrete songs. There are, of course, some abrupt shifts of mood from time to time, as between the nervous tension of Time to Go and the reflective serenity of Understanding. All in all, Pilc has produced a fascinating album of compelling improvisatory music that blurs the boundaries between classical and jazz.