One Track Mind: Pilc Moutin Hoenig, "Nardis" (2011)

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It was only about two weeks ago when I last reviewed a contemporary take on Miles Davis’ beautifully pensive “Nardis.” So why again? And so soon?

Well, I was listening to this rendition by the trio Pilc Moutin Hoenig in the car and it actually made me want to speed up, like listening to a heavy-metal song does to some people. “Nardis,” mind you, isn’t a song that was built for speed … or making one want to speed, but this interpretation by this Pilc/Moutin/Hoenig supertrio is aggressive, dangerous, risk-taking — the kind of attributes that gets your blood pumping.

Paris-born Jean-Michel Pilc, part of the same generation of jazz pianists out of France that brought us the late Michel Pettruciani, makes a strong case for being one of the premier unique stylists, inverting, deconstructing and reassembling melodies like chopping up celery sticks in a Cuisinart. Around a decade ago, he led a small combo that included Francois Moutin on acoustic bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. Eventually, they drifted off doing their own projects, but have reformed this year, with Moutin and Hoenig sharing the billing. As they both leave large footprints, it makes a lot of sense.

And sure enough, everyone makes their presence known on Nardis. Pilc announces the tune with a salutation of only the first two notes. As he ruminates over those pair of notes, the other guys make their way into the song discreetly. The entire theme is enunciated first shyly and then more affirmatively, but isn’t repeated again fully but a few more times the rest of the way. Before long, you realize the song progressing through cycles of tension and release, repeatedly, and in varying intensities. However, the unsettled turbulence always stays. Pilc, a very original pianist, is commanding, but also economical, never playing a thought or statement a single note longer than he needs to before moving on to the next one. Moutin ebbs and flows with a unflinchingly accurate feel for the performance of the song, playing in the lyrical, muscular style of Scott LaFaro. Hoenig, meanwhile, is thrashing about like Jack DeJohnette in a frisky mood.

The brainstorming around an abstraction of the Nardis melody is group improvisation, group intensity and group passion. Or, at least, it sure feels that way. The electricity goes from my ears down to my lead foot. Thankfully, I didn’t get a ticket. Could you imagine explaining to the cop that “Nardis” was to blame for this?

There’s a host of other done-to-death covers brought back to life again on Threedom. This album releases on October 11, courtesy of Motéma Music.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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