“Behind anything that can be experienced there is some-thing that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and subliminity reaches us only indirectly.” Pianist Jean-Michel Pilc begins his portion of the liner notes with this quote by Albert Einstein. On Threedom, Pilc, along with Ari Hoenig and François Moutin, offer an album of dynamic and engaging reflections on the expressive power of collaborative improvisation.
Threedom, Motema Records MTM-72, 2011. Personnel: Jean-Michel Pilc, piano; François Moutin, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums. Tracks: Nardis; Think of One; Morning; A Foggy Day; You and the Night and the Music; Birth; Slow; Touch; Giant Steps; Afro Blue; The Grinch Dance; Dusk; Lily; Threedom; Hymn for Her; I’m Beginning to See the Light; Confirmation; Smile. Recorded at Peter Karl Studios in Brooklyn, New York, on March 4th and 5th, 2011.
In the liner notes, Pilc describes recording the album as “surrendering” to this great, ungraspable “some-thing” that creates new, emergent music that plays the group in a “way…far removed from concepts, goals, or intentions.” Quite simply Threedom presents unabashed and insistent melodicism delivered via the trio’s complete instrumental mastery and superior musicality. From the first moments of “Nardis,” the album’s first track, Pilc/Moutin/Hoenig foreground melody not just for its own sake or in typical settings, but as the fundamental basis of each improvised composition. (The entire album was recorded as a set of first takes and the original compositions were not written beforehand but created at the moment of recording.) Those listening for faithful repetition of established forms and tried-and-true arrangements of these standards will surely not have their expectations met; however, in casting aside those conventions, the trio compels such listeners to a more active and revelatory role: one of discovery, imagination, and passion in which melodies act as threads to be picked up and followed joyfully. The “surrendering” Pilc describes in the liner notes manifests aurally as forms and harmonic progressions yielding to the insistence of this supreme melodicism—most noticeable in the standards included here—which continually generates new musical elements. Well-known and widely recorded, compositions like “You and the Night and the Music,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and “Giant Steps” serve as ideal vehicles for exhibiting the group’s interpersonal rapport and collective musicianship and act as vignette-like studies on motivic and melodic development. The three musicians constantly phase in new, overlapping sonic layers such that descriptions of foreground/background and solo/accompaniment fall well short of accurating depicting the group’s interplay. On “A Foggy Day,” Pilc introduces the melody in several keys at once before quickly passing it off to Moutin and Hoenig, who continue to spin it out amid the constancy of a swing groove that sounds only for a few seconds at a time, but never falls into question. Likewise, through all its shifts in register, timbre, harmony, and among the trio’s instruments, the song’s melody never disappears, sometimes submerging briefly under the surface but always lying close to the listener. Fading away quickly, folding into the next track, “A Foggy Day” is a fleeting, but profound, celebration of playfulness and the primacy of melodic development, one of example of many on an album replete with possibility for new discoveries at each listen. Threedom promises many individual moments of improvisational mastery and inventive performance, the collective result of which is a thoroughly exciting and energizing trio record.
In closing, here’s a clip from the trio’s sets at Blue Note in August 2011, where they previewed the album release and Jean-Michel and I reconnected after several years. In the video, the trio once again insists on the beauty and primacy of melody, stretching their instruments and the compositions beyond convention, while the listener is treated to watching the wonder and excitement of sympathetic, improvised discovery (ever-present in every moment of Threedom) wash over Pilc, Moutin, and Hoenig as it unfolded:
– “Inspired Intuition and Dissociative Play: The Improvising World of
– “Sense, Feeling, and the Rhythm of Study: A Conversation with
– Album review…Jean-Michel Pilc, Essential (Motema Music, 2011)
– Book review…It’s About Music: The Art and Heart of
Improvisation (Glen Lyon Books, 2012)