Michel Reis Plays Moody, Cerebral Piano in the West Village
Michel Reis played with a quartet at Caffe Vivaldi last night. He looks young: if he walked into your bar, you’d card him, if only because you’d be afraid that he might be a police cadet gone undercover, his older, future partners in “crime”-fighting ready to pounce the second you served him. But he’s an old soul, and not an undercover one. His music blends plaintive, minor-key classical motifs into a rhythmically tricky jazz framework. His technique is strong, but he doesn’t show off: he lets his melodies speak for themselves. One device that he relies on frequently is a familiar one from film music: waiting for a full bar before changing chords, letting the mood sink in, leading the listener along a narrative path as the suspense builds. The effect can be hypnotic; otherwise, this is where cinematic music gets its name.
He used those emotionally charged chords as an anchor as he moved further away from the center, alongside terse, incisive multi-reedman Aaron Kruziki, plus an agile bassist and drummer. The opening song of the set, Fairytale (Reis is not as good with titles as he is with tunes) built off a brooding, bittersweet jazz waltz, Kruziki’s long, swirling, closing soprano sax solo engaging the drums in a whirlpool of sound. Then Kruziki switched to clarinet for number that evoked both Dave Brubeck and Ennio Morricone (the arthouse Morricone, not the spaghetti western one), with a surprisingly effective, free interlude where only the drums held it together. Fluttery sax and glimmering, shimmery piano lit up a more rhythmically challenging number with a “did you just hear that” sax/piano conversation.
The next tune featured some dizzying polyrhythms that had the band gritting their teeth, and then finally grinning, as they negotiated their way through bluesy echoes (Summertime and St. James Infirmary were both in there), another terse bass solo, and Reis playing lefthand-versus-righthand in two completely unrelated meters. Finally the storm lifted with a soaring clarinet solo out. Afterward, Kruziki put down his horn, walked over to the piano and shook Reis’ hand.
Reis is originally from Luxembourg, and as you might expect, plays a lot of European gigs. His next US performances are solo shows at the Luxembourg Embassy in Washington, D.C. on September 24 and 26.