Like a splashing stream of spring water, Cascades is sprightly and cleansing. “Hasselblad 1” greets us with an electronic murmur against the background rustle and creak of household objects, before a piano furtively enters. Our attention captured, the incursions of the everyday accordingly wane and the ivories grow in confidence. Their charming song is faltering, but carries a resolve hinting at triumph to come. The piano retreats before this arrives.
Canadian pianist Jean-Michel Blais released the quite superb II in 2016, a debut that stood out amidst a surfeit of similarly timed piano releases with its variety and infectious joie de vivre. Here he collaborates with a fellow Montreal-based musician – renowned producer Mike Silver, aka CFCF. Cascades is not brimming with new material; instead it honours pieces past from both artists, as well as one from John Cage. This should not matter to all but the most intimately familiar with both artists.
Across five reworked pieces spanning 30 minutes, Blais and Silver revel in the variety that characterises their respective careers, short and long. Second piece “Two Mirrors” delivers the bombast and confidence hinted at in the opener. A reworking of a guitar-based CFCF track, Blais imbues this polyrhythmic piece with typical childlike enthusiasm. The pace is fast, the rhythms plentiful and, despite the track’s staccato style, it flows through movements and melody like a stream over jagged riverbed. “Spirit” sees the electronics take the spotlight, waxing and waning over sonorous, warming chords that intimate a warm summer’s eve.
“Hypocrite” is the sole original piece and coincidentally the record’s strongest, exhibiting the most balanced fusion of the two artists. An infectious piano melody cavorts with trance synths driving and corruscating – another rivulet for this increasingly engorged river. After a brief interlude of solo piano redolent of the grandest concert hall, the piece explodes with a strobe-like pulse that whisks us straight into a nightclub. It may seem trite, but echos of latter-day 65daysofstatic are impossible to ignore – with arpeggiators instead of pounding drums.
Originally composed for (more formal) dancing, Cage’s “In A Landscape” piano composition is an apt, calming place to conclude our watery journey. This “rework” glides through its dulcet dreamscape with the quiet grace of the original, occasional notes ensnared by Silver and other voices joining halfway through for an unexpectedly warm conclusion.
Part of the appeal of II was its sense of humble domesticity. Cascades may start in the home, but quickly leads us to the fresh outdoors to revel in the simple enchantment of converging streams and rushing rivers. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)