Sunday, May 20, 2012

Threedom in the 'House, Good Live Music + Gilkes' Gem

Improvised music is at the root of jazz; the concept of a group of musicians "playing" together with few rules and the determination to to not only express their "selves" but also a create an ensemble persona.  There's a thin line between self-expression and "noodling"  - to my ears and mind, the best music is created when the musicians are really listening to each other and trusting their intuitions. 

When the trio of Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), Fran├žois Moutin (bass) and Ari Hoenig (drums) perform, there is no set list.  They may discuss ideas over dinner but, much of the time the trio (pictured above in the order of Hoenig, Pilc and Moutin) just sits and "hits." Their latest CD, "Threedom" (Motema), was created over the space of 2 days last March.  The vast majority of the 18 tracks are first-takes and half the pieces are credited to the group (created on the spot in the studio.)  There are a number of wonderful surprises along the way ("Giant Steps" with a hip-hop feel, a delicate yet playful take on "A Foggy Day" and a blistering run through Charlie Parker's "Confirmation") and none of it feels forced. You may laugh at the scurrying sounds of "The Grinch Dance" and you could be mesmerized by the chiming piano on "Birth." Just listen with an open mind.

You'll get that opportunity when the Trio comes to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven, this Friday (May 25) to play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  It will be the 3rd night of a 4-night adventure that finds them starting in Boston, New York City, New Haven and Marlboro, NY.   For ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  For more information about Pilc, Moutin and Hoenig, go to

Other live events this week in Connecticut include the appearance of pianist Orrin Evans and flugelhorn player and trumpeter Haneef Nelson (pictured left) on Monday (May 21) at Black-eyed Sally's, 350 Asylum Street in Hartford.  Evans, based in Philadelphia, is a fine player who moves easily through genres, has a blues sensibility and truly understands that jazz is always evolving (he has a new Trio CD on Posi-Tone Records that I'll review later this week.)  Nelson is based in Hartford and is beginning to get attention from audiences and writers in the area.  The show is part of Jazz Mondays, a series presented by the Charter Oak Cultural Center and the Hartford Jazz Society - for more information, call 860-249-1207.  (Just learned on Monday at 12noon that Orrin Evans will not be on the keys for this gig.)
Wednesday May 23, the Carl Testa 4Tet performs at 9 p.m. in the Elm Bar, 372 Elm Street in New Haven.  Sponsored by bassist/composer and part of his Uncertainty Music Series, the 4Tet features Kevin Frenette (guitar, pictured left), James Rohr (keyboards) and John McLellan (drums).  Like Pilc, Moutin and Hoenig, this quartet plays mostly improvised music but may be a bit "freer" with rhythms.  Yet, the group interaction will be there and it should be fun to see and hear what musical directions these musical minds go in.  For more information and directions, call 475-238-8529.  To learn more about the Uncertainty series, go to  For more information about Carl Testa and his many projects, go to
Pianist Noah Baerman returns to The Buttonwood Tree, 605 Main Street in Middletown, with a quintet that features Henry Lugo (bass), Yoron Israel (drums), Kris Allen (alto saxophone) and a special guest on tenor saxophone (I have my suspicions but will wait to find out. O ho, it's Jimmy Greene, newly returned to these parts.)  Baerman has been composing new music for a larger ensemble and the Buttonwood is a comfortable space to give these pieces their initial airings.  The music commences at 7:30 p.m. - to find out more, call, 860-347-4957 or go to (Check out their new web presence as well.)


Trombonist-composer Marshall Gilkes, a native of Camp Springs, Maryland, is perhaps best known for his work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Richard Bona Band; his credits also include the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the David Berger Octet and harpist Edmar Castaneda. Currently, he's living in Koln, Germany, where he is a member of the WDR Orchestra.

"Sound Stories" (Alternate Side Records) is his 3rd release as a leader and features a fine band including Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone), Adam Birnbaum (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Eric Doob (drums).  The program, all Gilkes' originals, sounds "lived-in" and not like a "studio session." From the dizzying opening riffs of "Presence - part 1", the listener is drawn to the melodies and harmonies and drawn in by the excellent rhythm section.  Nakamura, whose list of gigs is quite impressive for someone who's been playing professionally for less than a decade, is a steady presence throughout and also adds counterpoint to the main melody on numerous occasions.  Doob, who has worked with Paquito D'Rivera, Miguel Zenon and Christian Scott, is a fluid player who can really drive the band bit also provide softer colors (quite noticeable on the lovey ballad, "Bare.") Pianist Birnbaum, whose not only has 3 Trio CDs to his credit but also has recorded with Greg Osby, trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt and trombonist Ryan Keberle, is a fine 3rd voice. Supportive, muscular yet displaying a softer touch when called on (you can hear both sides of his playing is his lengthy solo on "First Song".)  McCaslin should need no introductions; he is such a strong foil to Gilkes' burred sound.  His solo on the opening solo is breath-taking, a riff driven roller coaster powered by Doob and Nakamura.

Gilkes knows he's surrounded by a feisty yet supportive crew and he gives each one of them plenty of freedom to move throughout the program. One can hear an orchestral approach on several pieces including the atmospheric yet forceful "Armstrong - Part 2".  As a soloist, he himself has a strong presence, leaning towards the melodic in the majority of his solos (even the harder-driving ones, such as "Anxiety - Part 2"; here, he starts quietly but artfully builds the intensity level atop the furious drums and slashing piano chords.)  His compositions bristle with ideas, abound with rhythmic possibilities and surprise at many a turn.  "Slashes" opens as if the 5 musicians were going to tear a hole in the roof of the studio yet drops in intensity for the beginning of the leader's solo.  Gilkes slowly but surely brings the musical stew back to a boil then McCaslin adds his own spice to the mixture (I'm not sure he is capable of anything less than an excellent solo!)

Self-produced and self-assured, "Sound Stories" is a major statement from Marshall Gilkes.  His music is mature, adventurous, a treat for listeners who enjoy contemporary artists such as Wayne Shorter, Dave Douglas, Tom Harrell and the latter Bob Brookmeyer.  There's a little touch of the latter's sound in Gilkes' playing, mostly in the smooth tones and articulated notes; that does not mean Gilkes does not use smears and "bent" notes but his phrases are quite clear.  At 75 minutes, there's plenty of music but never a dull moment.  For more information, go to

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