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Monday, November 6, 2023

Michel Pilz (1945 - 2023)

Michel Pilz (Photo by Valerios Ioannidis)
By Martin Schray

When I became increasingly interested in free jazz at the end of the 1980s, I quickly ended up at the FMP label via recordings by Peter Brötzmann and Alexander von Schlippenbach. Soon I came across a rather less prominent trio with Paul Lovens on drums, Peter Kowald on bass and the bass clarinetist Michel Pilz, who was unknown to me until then. Carpathes, their 1976 album, presents Pilz in the center as he appears throughout the record either in solo performances, duos with Kowald or in a trio with Kowald and Lovens. I was thrilled by the sound of the instrument and Pilz’s improvisational possibilities, Carpathes has been one of my favorite free jazz albums to this day and when it was possible, I tried to see the man live. But unfortunately, this will no longer be possible, as he has just passed away shortly after his 78th birthday.

Michel Pilz was born on October 28th, 1945 in Bad Neustadt/Saale in Germany but grew up in Luxembourg and studied classical clarinet at the conservatory there. He decided to play jazz and became a member of Manfred Schoof’s quintet in 1968, where he met Alexander von Schlippenbach, Buschi Niebergall and Mani Neumeier. He was to remain musically associated with Schlippenbach, in particular, for most of his career. In the 1970s, Pilz toured in the Middle East, Asia and South America with the German All Stars quintet, Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra and, in Japan, with trumpeter Itaru Oki, another musical friend for life. Then he played in the above-mentioned trio with Peter Kowald and Paul Lovens and was a member of the clarinet pool Clarinet Contrast with Perry Robinson, Theo Jörgensmann, Bernd Konrad and Hans Kumpf from 1975 to 1977. Pilz founded his own group in 1977 with Buschi Niebergall and trumpeter Itaru Oki and was also a member of the new Manfred Schoof Quintet (with Jasper van't Hof, Günter Lenz and Ralf Hübner). Here, Pilz was also able to show a different face, as Schoof’s band gradually pushed the free elements into the background and made room for more composed forms of jazz music. A more moderate tone prevailed, as the group often improvised on modal reference systems without getting lost in clichés. In October, 1999, Pilz newly formed trio represented Germany at the European Jazz Festival in Damascus. He liked to tour the world and in an interview, he himself described particular stops as the most striking memories: “Tours through the Soviet Union with an indescribably enthusiastic audience and extremely warm-hearted hospitality.” In his last years, Pilz resided in Luxembourg again, where he was teaching and playing smaller local events. In Western Europe, especially in Germany and France, he continued to play occasional concerts, mainly with his trio, including Christian Ramond on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums (sometimes extended by Peter A. Schmid). Itaru Oki often joined the group to form the Pilz-Oki Quartet for selected dates. Four years ago, Pilz filled in spontaneously for Charles Gayle at the Freejazzsaar Festival in Saarbrücken, where he played in a spontaneous quartet with Frank Paul Schubert (saxophone), Stefan Scheib (bass), and Klaus Kugel (drums). A late highlight in his career was the fact that he recorded with Jean-Noël Cognard for the percussionist’s Disques Bloc Thyristors label.

There are many albums with Michel Pilz, that are very recommendable. The two L’Étau albums for Disques Bloc Thyristors are absolutely excellent, Choses Clandestines (2014) and Script Original (2021), with Keith Tippett on piano, Paul Rogers on bass and Jean-Noël Cognard on drums. Other albums that won’t disappoint you are Aux Antipodes De La Froideur (2018), again with Cognard on drums, Quentin Rollet on saxophones and Marcio Mattos on bass as well as Binôme (2010), a duo with Cognard, both on the same label. Carpathes is a hidden FMP gem, as is One Year - Afternoon & Evening with Itaru Oki and Ralf R. Hübner (FMP, 1980). Another great album is Celeste with Buschi Niebergall on bass and Uwe Schmitt on drums (Trion, 1979). Jamabiko, his quartet recording with Oki, Niebergall and Muhammad Ali on drums is absolutely worth listening to and of course all the Globe Unity Orchestra albums Pilz has contributed to.

The free jazz world has lost a great stylist and sound magician. Another great loss this year.

Watch and listen to Michel Pilz with Keith Tippett, Paul Rogers and Jean-Noël Cognard:


Anonymous said...

Im Kölner Loft hat Pilz mit Rainer Winterschladen gespielt. Das war das letzte Mal, wo ich als Zuhörer dabei war.

Markus Mueller said...

thank you, Martin Schray

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this; yet another great loss this year, indeed. Mr. Pilz left us with a lot of really great recordings, and I second your recommendations - my favorite recordinmay be one I got off the inconstantsol (I think) blog many years ago - a radio broadcast from 5/15/78 with Buschi Niebergall and Uwe Stewart; just one tune, about 33 minutes long. It's just wonderful. I listen to it quite often still.

Ernst Grgo Nebhuth said...

It is also worth mentioning that Michel Pilz was the first reedist for the Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio in 1969/70 (before E. Parker took over). A close to 30 minutes recording with Pilz in the Schlippenbach Trio was released in 2015.

He was really a kind person.
Several times I've contacted him for an elusive recording. And always he refused to get paid for the CDs! And apart from his generosity I've rarely experienced such warmth from a person via a telephone call.


Xaver Xotl said...

The last CD Michel Pilz was involved in, and whose composition "Yamabiko" is the title track, is YAMABIKO QUINTET. It received two five-star reviews in FONO FORUM magazine in February 2023 and was listed in THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD under "Recommended New Releases" in September 2023.