On the surface, Charles Henri Maulini‘s Peaks is simply a beautiful, life-affirming album. But below the surface, it’s much more. The album raises a host of significant psychological questions: Who are you at your deepest core? How do you respond to life’s traumatic events? What is your philosophy?
Maulini and his brother were in Paris last November when terrorists struck, killing some of their best friends. In July, they were back in their home town of Nice when another terrorist drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day. These two attacks became the backdrop of the compositional process. How would they respond? How would you respond?
Natural responses would include shock, sadness, anger and fear. One would be forgiven for expecting a loud, abrasive, heart-shredding album. But this is not the path that Maulini chooses to take. We can become what we fear; we can respond to hate with hate; we can descend to the level of our enemies; or we can choose another path. This path is apparent in the candlelight vigils, the comfort of strangers, the makeshift monuments, the refusal to give in. As Max Ehrmann writes, “it is still a beautiful world.” This is the statement that Maulini chooses to underline, creating art not only as a response, but as a declaration.
After learning the backstory, one listens with new ears. There seems to be no anger here, no fear. But there is a low undercurrent of sadness: not the main story, but present. One can hear it in the tender piano, the mournful cello, the measured pace. Yet there is also hope, in even greater quantities. One hears it in the brightness of the keys, the twinkle of the glockenspiel, and in a couple rare instances, a brief, Jónsi-esque exhalation. The album builds to its most generous track, “Paris”, dedicated to the city and to the memory of the lost. In this piece, Maulini’s small ensemble simply gets together and improvises; in short, they love, and they declare love over the cities and its residents. Hearing this finale, one remembers that Paris is La Ville Lumière, The City of Light. And if for a moment one confuses the light of candles with that of streetlights and towers, it is only to the benefit of its citizens, who must each choose, in their own way, to bear the light after so many have been extinguished.
Peaks may not have begun as a parable, but it became one as it developed. The album reminds us of our highest aspirations, and encourages us to be defined by hope, rather than by loss. These are not the sounds of victims, but of conquerors. Maulini has done his nation proud. (Richard Allen)