On 'Heat Of The Moment," Mathis Picard Draws Attention to the Climate Crisis

By Andrey Henkin

Friday, November 3, 2023

Heat Of The Moment, 28 year old French-Malagasy pianist Mathis Picard’s full-length debut as a bandleader, was born of the notion that, as he states, “The earth and humanity are intricately linked—when we hurt the planet, we hurt ourselves. When we heal the planet, we heal our communities.” 

That word, community, comes out often in conversation with Picard. Picard and his contemporaries often discuss the devastating effects of climate change, as a generation who will be responsible for addressing decades of inaction. “We protect children from the world in a way that is hopeful,” he says. “Then, you grow up and it's not actually like that and creates a feeling of collective betrayal and then a bit of helplessness because the situation feels so dire."

The album’s title speaks to “who is getting affected and who is getting help and who is not getting help and who is deciding who gets help and the stress that brings to the notion of the future of our existence—the heat of the moment.”

So, for an album about the climate crisis, it was with great intention that Picard drew from his community of peers—people who would feel the same urgency about the message. Picard has worked with these players extensively since coming to New York to study at Juilliard 12 years ago. 

The album’s dozen tracks feature three rhythm sections, each on four pieces. Bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole were his classmates at Juilliard and the trio played Smalls Jazz Club every Tuesday. Picard, bassist Joshua Crumbly, and drummer Jonathan Pinson were all on trumpeter Braxton Cook’s first album. Drummer Savannah Harris was on Picard’s earlier EPs Live At The Museum and World Unity while bassist Parker McAllister is a partner of newer vintage.

The guests also include longtime collaborators: Vuyo Sotashe, Shenel Johns and J. Hoard (vocals), Joel Ross (vibraphone), Melanie Charles (flute), Giveton Gelin (trumpet), Braxton Cook (alto saxophone), Kofi Hunter (conga), and Ruben Fox (tenor saxophone). Charles and Gelin were also part of Picard’s Sound Orchestra for its EP World Unity.

It was important for Picard to showcase these relationships, especially coming out of the isolation of the pandemic. “I couldn't go back to France. I couldn't do this gig in Italy,” he says. “How am I going to make best use of my time? What happened if I was stuck in Europe and couldn't come back to the States? What would I regret? And I think one of the things I would have regretted wasn't to document the friendships and celebrate the communities I've been a part of for the past years in the States.”

“The earth and humanity are intricately linked—when we hurt the planet, we hurt ourselves. When we heal the planet, we heal our communities.”

Liberation is another important word for Picard, especially how  it applies to the creative process. He uses it as a “mantra…a big thing I think about when I'm writing is if there's any notion of I should, I shouldn't, or any idea that doesn't come truly from inspiration and being present as opposed to ego, then I really play with that during the moment of creation. I want to be liberated from those things while I'm composing. It's a very conscious meditation I practice while creating my art to make sure that it comes from liberation.” Chick Corea is a touchstone for Picard, and heard to great effect on the varied textures of Heat of the Moment. Picard finds inspiration in how the late pianist created so many different groups and sounds but always sounded like himself. The pieces were also chosen to liberate those who would be heard on them, which Picard thought “fits for the musicians and that people are going to have a good time playing on.”

“Life Gets Easier,” the final piece of Heat Of The Moment, features the three vocalists. Picard wrote the hopeful lyrics, which he explains were, “inspired by weather patterns that can change and morph without our control. It is an invitation to find grace and gentleness in one’s presence while facing the many different emotional climates that occur to us on a daily basis. When the rain starts to fade away, life gets easier. Believing the blue in the sky will appear in time, life gets easier. So keeping that mentality that things are going to be better, life will get easier.”

About Andrey Henkin

Andrey Henkin is a writer based in Queens, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, NPR, Stereophile, WeJazz, The New York City Jazz Record, CODA and accompanying numerous albums. He maintains the obituary website JazzPassings.com.