Benoit Delbecq: The Weight of Light

John Sharpe By

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Benoit Delbecq: The Weight of Light
French pianist Benoit Delbecq has become one of the leading exponents of the John Cage-inspired school of prepared piano in the jazz and improvised music arena. So much so that Canadian pianist Kris Davis received a grant to study extended piano techniques with him early in her career, and has since performed with him in duet.

No surprise then to find Delbecq's solo recital The Weight Of Light appearing on Davis' Pyroclastic imprint. He's no stranger to the exposed format as it's his fourth stint alone at the keyboard after AJMiLive #17 (AJMI, 2017), Circles And Calligrams (Songlines, 2010) and Nu Turn (Songlines, 2003).

But the embrace of preparations, involving erasers and dried wood for example, forms only one element of Delbecq's singular style. Equally important is his left field stance of cool abstraction, or perhaps that might be better put as oblique melody, one step beyond Paul Bley, say, which contrasts with his hammered figures and staggered rhythms. Delbecq seeks inspiration from diverse sources which result in unusual outcomes. While previous efforts have interrogated the syntax of speech, this time out the Frenchman draws on a fascination with the play of light and hanging mobiles which he translated into graphic notation. It lends a typically cryptic quality to his conceptions.

Delbecq's interventions engender a percussive feel which at times suggests African Pygmy music, on "Family Trees" or a gamelan ensemble on "Au Fil De La Parole" and "Pair Et Impair," which also evokes electric piano sonorities. On "Anamorphoses," which inches the closest to convention, he uses a looping riff in the bass, juxtaposed with more garrulous flurries in treble, hinting at blues tonality. "Dripping Stones" is only cut without some modifications. It's an apt title, calling to mind pebbles dropping into a pond, angular attacks set amongst spreading ripples.

Among the highlights are two numbers reprised from his quartet outing Spots On Stripes (Clean Feed, 2018). The opening "The Loop Of Chicago" in which layers of sound comprised of lurching pattern derived from modified keys run alongside bursts of single note runs which edge tantalizingly towards lyricism, lending emotional ambivalence to the experimental.

Delbecq rounds off the program with "Broken World," a favorite piece which he has revisited several times. At its center sits a richly voiced melancholy air, with the merest hint of manipulations in muted strikes and fleeting buzz of overtones, which wields all the more impact for being the most melodic portion of album.

Delbecq reaffirms his position as one of the most intriguing of piano stylists in these coded messages laced with an austere beauty which captivate and unsettle in equal measure.

Track Listing

The Loop of Chicago; Dripping Stones; Family Trees; Chemin sur le crest; Au fil de la parole; Anamorphoses; Havn en Havre; Pair et impair; Broken World.


Benoit Delbecq: piano.

Album information

Title: The Weight of Light | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Pyroclastic Records

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