No rehearsal. No overdubs. Not even a plan.
None of that is all that unusual for seasoned jazz players. But when the acclaimed trio of Jean-Michel Pilc, François Moutin and Ari Hoenig reunited for the first time in 12 years, there was no question that the magic they distilled all those years ago was just waiting to be plucked from the air the moment they reconvened.
The result, YOU Are the Song, is their first album in 12 years. It’s out May 12 on Justin Time Records. “Instead of talking about music, we let music talk through us,” says Pilc. “Rather than playing music, we let music play us. In lieu of playing a song, we become the song and invite all of YOU to do so.”
Even though Pilc and Moutin knew each other in France in the ‘80s when they attended university together, they strengthened their musical relationship in 1995 when they both moved to New York where they linked up with Hoenig. Their debut in 2000 was followed by three more records before they went their separate ways in 2011.
Jazz Times once wrote: “This remarkably intuitive trio has the ability to collectively bend the harmonic and rhythmic content of familiar jazz standards like taffy……it’s like watching the Flying Karamazov Brothers tossing bowling pins back and forth from across the stage.”
Reuniting at the behest of Justin Time Records, it was like no time had passed at all. “What we do is pure improvisation,” says Pilc. “There is no resistance in the music when the three of us are together.” They assembled in a Brooklyn studio in June 2022 and played for three hours, gathering enough material for several albums. YOU Are the Song is the first.
The result includes spontaneous compositions as well as reharmonized takes on standards such as John Coltrane’s “Impressions” and Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” — even the theme from the 1951 Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. It’s not free jazz as some listeners might assume from the trio’s three-decade career. It has an emotive heart, with all three musicians serving as leaders. It follows melodic forms, fuels with a unique rhythmic vitality, powers into playground antics and ventures into uncharted sonic territory.
“We’re in a state of concentration,” says Moutin. “We don’t want a rational mindset to get in the way. We are constantly on that crest between control and letting go. It’s a mystery, but we like to not solve the mystery. It’s more important to carry the emotion.”