Quentin Sirjacq: Piano Memories

Quentin Sirjacq's latest release is about as direct as a recording could conceivably be: after all, any album called Piano Memories and featuring tracks titled “Memory 1,” “Memory 2,” and so forth isn't being coy about its intentions. But the French composer-pianist's follow-up to his debut album La Chombre Claire and recent soundtrack Bright Days Ahead is no less charming for being so forthright, and, as it turns out, one of its creator's main points of emphasis has to do with transparency. Recorded during a 2012 visit to Japan, the album presents Sirjacq supplementing his piano playing with celesta and electronics, and the Paris-based jazz drummer Steve Arguelles also contributes electronics to three of the album's nine tracks.

Sirjacq's pieces are intimate expressions that are both powerfully emotional and elegant in formal design. His delicate touch is on full display in every one of the recording's settings, and the music is often nostalgic in mood and heartfelt in tone—even if, in text by the composer accompanying the release, Sirjacq states that his “music is neither nostalgic nor romantic but ‘reminiscent.'” His formal training—between 1999 and 2004 he earned an M.A. at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and later studied composition at Mills College in California—comes through in the refined classical style of “Memory 3,” “Memory 5,” and “Memory 6,” the latter two of which are particularly suggestive of the influence of Debussy and Ravel on his playing. “Memory 6” also shows how deftly Sirjacq is capable of alternating between technically dazzling passages and those so sparse and minimal they verge on prayer-like. In addition, the hushed seventh setting is undoubtedly one of the loveliest piano pieces I've heard in some time.

The inclusion of celesta on three pieces makes Sirjacq's music sound even prettier than when it's presented in piano form only; on “Memory 1” and “Memory 2,” for instance, the celesta's crystalline sound gives the material a bell-like brightness that enhances the music's already considerable appeal and lends it an innocent quality that derives from the instrument's associations with childhood. The inclusion of electronics and celesta also adds variety to the album by providing contrast between the pieces on which they appear and the ones solely devoted to piano, and the subtle manner by which Sirjacq integrates electronics into the material is in itself an indication of his consistently tasteful approach to music-making.

April 2014