Concert review: Moutin Factory Quintet at the Green Mill

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If the Moutin Factory Quintet had played with any more enthusiasm Friday night at the Green Mill Jazz Club, the pillar holding up the ceiling might not still be standing.

But we're not talking about mere volume. The band's first set opened big and ended with a vast, cathartic outpouring on a grand scale. In between, a lone ballad gave listeners – and musicians – a rare moment in which to take a breath.

This is the newest venture of Francois and Louis Moutin, French twin brothers best known for the Moutin Reunion Quartet, which has played periodically in Chicago over the years. The Green Mill opener showed not only the strength of the new enterprise but its considerable potential.

As always, the brothers Moutin stood at the core of the venture, their locked-in approach to rhythm surely owing as much to skill as to genetics. Either way, they built backbeats in unison, sharing a rock-solid pulse as well as a ferocious sense of forward motion.

But that was just the spine of a quintet bolstered by Manu Codjia's wide-open guitar solos, Christophe Monniot's incantatory lines on saxophone and Jean-Michel Pilc's harmonically advanced pianism (Pilc was sitting in for pianist Thomas Enhco). At times, these five musicians suggested a much larger ensemble, as well as a cohesive unit pushing forward with a single purpose.

The quintet's intentions became clear from the opening salvos of the first set, drummer Louis Moutin's "Lucky People," the title track from the band's new album. Here was music-making on an epic scale, alto saxophonist Monniot sending off whirring runs and exclamatory high notes while drummer Moutin set off eruptions behind him. Add to this Pilc's ultra-sophisticated chords and Codjia's blues-tinged guitar solos, and you had a neat summation of what this quintet is all about.

The musicians stretched out further in drummer Moutin's "Dragonfly," an expansive percussion solo followed by a hyper-virtuosic bass cadenza from Francois Moutin. Saxophonist Monniot entered the fray playing sopranino, the melodic fervor of his statements giving the music much-needed focus, with Pilc providing skittering lines on piano. From this point forth, "Dragonfly" featured various combinations of players in extended passages of nearly free-form improvisation. The result was structurally lopsided but thrilling to behold.

When the Moutin Factory Quintet finally turned down the dial, in Francois Moutin's ballad "Forgiveness," listeners could fully savor the work of Pilc, one of the most comprehensively accomplished pianists in jazz today. His dreamy opening solo conveyed a storytelling quality, a significant achievement considering that on this evening he was ogling scores that the rest of the band already knew quite well.

The tour de force came last, with an immense, far-reaching version of "You'll Be Fine," also from the "Lucky People" album. Each musician took a turn leading the charge, with Monniot double-dipping on alto and sopranino, pianist Pilc hinting at his digital prowess and Codjia producing soaring, airborne lines. When everyone came together for the grand finale, they sounded as if they could have gone on for hours, swelling from one ecstatic climax to the next and the next and the next.

The Moutin Factory Quintet plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $15; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

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