Solo pianists can come across as dry and removed or playful and ebullient. When a single instrument plays for the length of an album, it’s better to be the latter. This is what we’ve come to expect from Delphine Dora, who has compiled a diverse discography that includes discs of vocal work, improvisations, and collaborations. All too often we hear the piano used more for percussion than composition: single notes struck, extended, and manipulated like cotton candy. And so it’s a true pleasure to hear someone who can really play, as evidenced immediately in “An Ode to Infinity”, which includes more notes in 3:13 than most ambient albums include in their entire span. But to be fair, this is not ambient, this is modern composition, the heir apparent to the classical throne, the genre in which jazz and rock often come to let out some steam.
A Stream of Consciousness is entirely instrumental and entirely solo. Over the course of 50 minutes and 14 tracks, Dora exercises her fingers to an amazing extent, with wave after wave of right-handed textures balanced by left-handed melodies. And yet, it’s not that simple. The left often delves into abstraction as well, wandering into vast fields of wheat-like notes, stretching to touch the tops of the stalks. These pieces are not the kind one hums or strums; instead, one allows the sounds to surround the ears like thousands of fireflies, all blinking at their own frequencies. As befits its title, A Stream of Consciousness is an impressionistic work, blurred and blue as the cover image implies. The titles may attempt to attach meaning to the sounds, but they tend to restrict one’s interpretation. Better to use the album as an opportunity for reflection, allowing the notes to direct the thoughts while their echoes provide a cushion. If “I Wish I Could” and “If We…” cause one to feel pangs of regret, so be it; but apart from nomenclature, they are just as likely to inspire holiness or contemplative calm.
The tracks grow slightly longer as the album unfolds, as if Dora wants to draw us deeper. Smartly placed at the album’s center, “Obsessions” slows the pace to a swoon. ”Freedom Is Not To Be Out Of Restraints” flirts with the avant-garde, as sprightly atonal flourishes intimate a barely-controlled madness. Not that Dora is mad; quite the contrary. Instead, the artist is capable of playing different characters, an attribute that serves her well. The hesitations of the aforementioned “I Wish I Could” bear this out, reflecting a simultaneous desire to move forward and to draw back. The seven-minute “Conclusion” stands in start contrast to the rapid pace of the opener; in this piece, even the lonely wooden rustles of the hammers and pedals operate as notes. After reaching for the stars, the song shifts to its second phase, a more earthbound section that seems to leave its aspirations behind until the brightness of its final thirty seconds: a sweet coda to an enchanting album. (Richard Allen)