This project grew out of my encounter with Jean-Michel Pilc. I was lucky enough to work alongside this great musician during my four-year stay in Montreal. Every opportunity to play with him was the promise of a real adventure, full of surprises and discoveries. When we improvised as a duo, I often had the impression that Jean-Michel could read my mind and anticipate the slightest note that would emerge from the confines of my imagination, giving rise to unfiltered musical dialogues.
When the opportunity arose to record with Jean-Michel, I wanted to choose a repertoire that would preserve this pleasure of playing, this spontaneity. So I thought of inviting a third interlocutor into our conversation, Serge Gainsbourg. I knew Jean-Michel's taste for French chanson. What's more, he shares with Gainsbourg a certain outspokenness and an unbridled sense of humour. But it was primarily my taste for this repertoire that justified my choice. Ever since I first encountered it as a teenager, Serge Gainsbourg's music has appealed to me because of its audacity, its rebellious and provocative side, but also its poetry and mysterious side. Beyond musical styles, it touches on complex and often contradictory emotions, moving from the sophisticated to the trivial, mixing classicism and avant-garde, depth and lightness. This is rich, thrilling music. After four years in Montreal, recording Serge Gainsbourg was a way of celebrating my return to France, of affirming my attachment to this country that I have left several times for extended stays but which has always remained my true home.
To prepare this recording I selected tracks from several albums spanning Gainsbourg's entire career, all of which have in common the fact that their melodies are singular enough to dispense with lyrics. I chose to reduce the arrangements to a few simple ideas, for example a rhythmic change on the bass line of Bonnie and Clyde or a change of metre on La Javanaise. Then we performed and improvised without any preconceptions, using our own idiosyncrasies and sometimes straying a long way from the original versions, while, I believe, preserving the character of the songs, their essential spirit.
One day I came across a quote from Lester Young, who said that to play a standard well you had to know the words. I have wonderful memories of my last spring months in Montreal when I was walking my daughter in a pushchair, singing the songs I was about to record.
This record is the result of an hour and a half of rehearsal and half a day in the studio, so you might as well call it a blitz-album! Perhaps this was the only way for the magic to happen, for one of music's great allies, l'Inconnue, to make an appearance. It was all hanging by a thread — Sait-on jamais — but we weren't disappointed, and I hope you, dear listener, won't be either!
Paris, May 2023
Jonathan Orland – alto saxophone
Jean-Michel Pilc – piano
All tracks on the album are by Serge Gainsbourg