There is something formally beautiful about Jean-Machel Blais’ piano (and synths) classical-style compositions from his second album, Dans Ma Main. This is ironic in light of the fact that so much of the material comes from organic thoughts and creative inspiration. Blais manages to transform simple motifs into weightless complex structures into (as Paul Simon noted in a different context) “angels in the architecture”. There’s a playful, cherubic essence to Blais’ use of rhythmic patterns and electronic atmospherics. His meticulously plays the piano and lets the notes ring.
The music can get quite loud and even a bit raucous on tracks such as “Igloo” or subdued and peaceful on songs such as “Forteresse” and even futuristic and cerebral as on cuts like “Blind”. Yet they all seem of a piece. Dans Ma Main may be composed of 10 separate pieces out it flows like a single work. Even the few times when outside noises, singing voices (especially on “Chanson”), and conversations are entered for effect, one is always aware that one is hearing it as part of the whole. Parts of the individual tracks as well as the entire ones differ to create a larger sonic landscape made up of many elements.
The English translation of the phrase “Dans Ma Main” is “In My Hand”. This makes a literal sense as Blais constructs the music using his hands. Giving the song and album a French title suggests a nod to composers such as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, whose influences can be clearly heard here. He also references more modern music by Radiohead and Eric Carmen. But “In My Hand” is too physical a description for such an intimate album. There’s a heart on the sleeve emotionalism to the music.
Even on the more abstract cuts, such as “God(s)”, the music hints at spiritual concerns more than mental ones. The song conjures up a whole host of noises before fading into nothing. This is not conceptual art, but a recreation of being in the moment and hearing the still small voice—or maybe not quite hearing it but knowing it’s there.
The longest song, “A Heartbeat Away”, begins with the quiet sound of birds chirping. Blais plays the keys gently and lets the synths wash away the silence. He lets the piano take the lead. He begins tentatively but about half way through Blais turns things up a notch. The instruments clash and then just the piano remains. The track ends quietly, the volume below the level of normal hearing, then just stops. It’s difficult to identify what is just a heartbeat ways, but there is an inherent romanticism to the piece.
This soft focus can sometimes make the music a bit too new agey. This is always a danger with quiet piano music. Blais does a good job (mostly) of not letting the instrumentals turn into moody backgrounds. However, there is an inherent ambient quality to the music that is a positive thing. This work that does not require intense listening to be appreciated, but can be just played and enjoyed.