by Giovanni Russonello
Jazz has always been a navigational music. If each instrumentalist in a classical orchestra represents one ripple amid a great wave, a jazz musician – especially since the advent of the modern small group in the 1940s – can redirect her whole band’s current or unleash a deluge at any moment.
The trio formed by Jean-Michel Pilc, Francois Moutin and Ari Hoenig, which plays at Blues Alley on Tuesday, finds its center of gravity somewhere between those two approaches: The individual’s power is in his ability to simultaneously command and support the whole.
Hoenig, the drummer, described the group’s playing to me in this way: “It feels like you’re a part of one being – one person – but each limb thinks for itself. If you’re one leg, you can royally screw up the rest of the body. That’s how much control you have. But the idea is to work as one, so if the arm does something, the leg wants to support it.”
Pilc Moutin Hoenig, “Giant Steps”
[audio:https://www.capitalbop.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/09-Giant-Steps.mp3|titles=Pilc Moutin Hoenig – Giant Steps]
For this trio, spontaneity is the great equalizer. Pianist Pilc, a native of Paris, said they never map out what they’ll play, let alone use sheet music. “We go onstage and just improvise,” he said. Even when they arrive at a standard tune by George Gershwin or Miles Davis, it’s because one of them hinted at the melody and the others caught on, or a collective improvisation led them to it.
The group began performing together as the Jean-Michel Pilc Trio in 1996, not long after all three had arrived in New York City. They have played off and on since then. Moutin, the bassist and a fellow Parisian, honed his expansive style over 20-plus years playing in progressive jazz groups led by major names, from the French legend Martial Solal to the Indian-American alto saxophone innovator Rudresh Mahanthappa. Hoenig, who is originally from Philadelphia, has established himself as a reputed bandleader, composer and sensitive but volatile colorist, whose playing is as mutable as it is assertive.
When the three players reassembled this year after a hiatus, they decided to simply call themselves Pilc Moutin Hoenig. Listening to their new record, the shrewdly titled Threedom, the subversion of the leader position makes sense. “It was very natural to do it under all three names, because to me there is no leader in this band,” Pilc said.
The trio’s focus on constant, collective expression invests the music with a sense of stern concentration, especially on the nine original compositions – all group improvisations – which make up one-half of Threedom. “I feel that my whole self is involved,” Moutin said. “I can’t think of anything else. Playing with these guys involves every molecule of my being.”
Pilc Moutin Hoenig plays at 8 and 10 p.m. on Tuesday night at Blues Alley. Admission costs $25, and there is a $10 minimum. The show is presented by the Alliance Francaise, and tickets can be purchased here.