Quentin Sirjacq: far islands and near places

Paris-born pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Quentin Sirjacq (b. 1978) has recorded a number of albums for Schole, most of them centered around his highly developed piano playing (he studied at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and later Mills College in California). Which makes his third original album, Far Islands and Near Places an extremely interesting project, less for the fact that it musically draws for inspiration, at least in part, from Japan and more for the fact that it augments his keyboard (piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer) and percussion playing with the marimba, vibraphone, and glockenspiel stylings of Arnaud Lassus. His contributions form no small part of the album; if anything, Lassus's playing casts Sirjacq's music in an entirely new light by energizing it with rhythmic force.

Lassus's presence is felt immediately on the forty-minute album when his marimba and glockenspiel patterns complement the elegant melodies voiced by piano in “Aquarius” and invest the music with a pronouncedly swinging quality. Further to that, Sirjacq expands upon his own contributions by supplementing acoustic piano with electric piano and synthesizer, a move that enhances greatly the stately setting “Far Islands.” Though only two musicians are involved, the album's performances sound like those of a small ensemble, and the dimensionality of Sirjacq's music benefits greatly as a result.

The percussive presentation is so much at the forefront of “Wolfes” [sic] it begins to sound as if what we're listening to is a Sirjacq composition performed by the Steve Reich Ensemble, and when an insistent dance music rhythm animates “Bodies,” one could be forgiven for thinking that the material in question is by someone like Francesco Tristano than Sirjacq, so unexpected is it to hear a techno pulse in one of his pieces. Japan isn't the only country evoked by Sirjacq's material either: with vibes and piano featured prominently in its arrangement, the nostalgic setting “It's Raining in my House” exudes the cosmopolitan character of a cafe on Paris's Left Bank during the ‘60s.

Multiple genres are invoked over the course of the album, jazz, electronic, and classical among them, though they're not treated as separate entities; instead, different styles and flavours appear within the same setting. A signature characteristic of Sirjacq's piano playing is the delicacy of his touch, and ample instances of it surface on the album (e.g., “Cold Lands,” “A Dream in a Dream”). Thankfully, though Far Islands and Near Places presents him in a refreshing new light, it doesn't do so at the expense of that defining aspect of his artistic persona.

April 2016