Jardin d’Exil is a double first: l’Ensemble en Pièces first album and the first installment in the label Ambiances Magnétiques "Jazz" series. Yes, Montréal’s avant-garde mainstay goes jazz, but judging from this first offering, it is not aiming for the mainstream. While being softer and easier to listen to than most of AM’s previous releases, especially from a jazzpoint of view, Jardin d’Exil never falls down to the lowest common denominator, on the contrary. Led by pianist Alexandre Grogg and sax player Philippe Lauzier, this quintet delivers some gracefully complex tunes, balancing swing and melody with harmonic audacities and intricate structures. One hears hints of Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, and the Vancouver jazz scene. The rhythm section of Christophe Papadimitriou and Thom Gossage makes a strong bopping unit, while feeling comfortable in post-post-bop stretch-outs. Andy King’s trumpet is a balm in most of thequieter pieces, his velvety tone contributing generously to the group’s identity. Lauzier and Grogg share writing credits. The pianist’s pieces arethe most complex in the band’s repertoire and show influences fromcontemporary classical, the softer side of avant-jazz, and maybe even a touch of Rock-in-Opposition, while Lauzier’s tunes stick closer to the bop ethos, with many quirks to boot. Highlights include the exquisite Ouverture, the cinematic Plaines, the foggy Short Story, and Arrière-Pays but there is hardly a throwaway track (although the kalimba-led Lointain feels slightly out of place). This album requires a listener in a introspective mood, and its heavy melancholia might bring you down a bit, but some jazz fans will tell you these are the signs of great music.