Jean-Michel Blais of Montreal, Canada, sits in the middle of the spectrum of contemporary piano composers, with touches of classic minimalism (Philip Glass), virtuoso pop (Yann Tiersen) and romantic neoclassicism (Nils Frahm) all swimming around in his enveloping sound. II is released by Arts & Crafts.
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- Il by Jean-Michel Blais
7/10 Robin Staff review, 07 April 2016
Just look at how smug Jean Michel-Blais is. His piano’s open, his floorboards are wooden, his cardigan is great -- he’s even got a teapot. In case you can’t tell, I’m mad as hell, which is no mood to settle into before a record of emotively-motivated, proudly neo-classical piano exercises. Pour me some tea and bring me back to earth, Blais.
Familiar to anyone with an ear for classicists like Dustin O’Hallaran, Max Richter and Matthew Cooper, but stumbling towards the playfulness of artists like Hauschka, ‘II’ sees Blais stretch his compositions as far and wide as possible. He retains melodies and a clarity of structure but presents each with its own distinct persona, which might sound cheesy and dismissive, but like: the urgency of “II” and its rollicking notes, straight into the lounging, tripped tempo of “Dada”? It’s a good way to keep someone invested in a solo set of instrumental -- not that he’s creating a narrative for these lil’ piano pieces, but that he’s giving you different ways to enjoy his time sat at the thing.
The record rises and falls as it pleases, with the rapid-fire, string-enhanced fullness of “Nostos” (featuring producer BUFFLO) pulled back down by the twinkling of “Hassleblad”, which quickly brings the listener into close contact with Blais and all the noises he accidentally makes while sat at his instrument. “Budapest” is a piece with major, pantomimic humour; “Rondo majeur” is a ballad.
Look at all the things he can do! He does them well. I want his house.
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