One of the season’s loveliest albums was borne out of heartbreak. An aubade is “a morning love song about lovers separating at dawn.” Composer Jean-Michel Blais used the end of a relationship to reaffirm his commitment to life. Known primarily for his piano work, Blais has opened his tonal palette to embrace orchestral elements and shifted his keys from minor to major, resulting in a set that at times sounds utterly triumphant, despite the circumstances. It becomes a statement of faith in life and yes, even love.
But first there is the piano, the composer playing tenderly, confident that his friends are on their way. “Murmures” (“Muttering”) eases the listener into the album as the strings are eased into the piece, swiftly finding their places in the musical garden. When the opening track ends, sorrow has already been erased, clearing the way for “Passepied.” This bright-toned piece alternates between bow and pluck like dancers approaching and retreating. One can picture the court dance in the breakdowns, which lead to brief piano solos and additional pas-de-deux. The drum roll at the end is a nice touch.
It’s a delight to hear the dynamic contrast of the playful “nina.” One pictures a playground, a theme revisited on “carrousel.” Again a dance is suggested, one that might be practiced at home until ballrooms reopen. In the meantime, one might engage in the pandemic “flaneur” (“stroll”), which amusingly also suggests “loaf” or “lounge” and ends in laughter. It’s clear that the artist is having fun, and his amusement is contagious. The first side ends with a reference to the hopeful “Field of Dreams” ~ “if you build it, they will come.” We doubt the title refers to a baseball field, but it may be something more spiritual: a happy life, a peaceful community.
The exuberance peaks in “yanni” (which does not sound like Yanni), but retreats in the closing pieces, as if to look back one final time, to acknowledge the pain of transition, tempered by the album’s second burst of laughter at the end of “absinthe” and a conversation that continues into “carrousel.” Jean-Michel is okay now; but his victory was hard-earned, and he didn’t do it alone. For those still feeling isolated this February, reach out; trust the dance awaits. (Richard Allen)