Benoît Delbecq: Nu-Turn

©Laurence Svirchev

On this CD French pianist/composer Benoît Delbecq sits at a Steinway D-Model and improvises. The piano is played both in its natural state and “prepared” by placing carved twigs of different wood species and other materials under the strings. The recording techniques are advanced and the final outcome is a hybrid SACD.

The range of sounds Delbecq produces within a composition forces the ears to conjecture that more than one instrument is at work. Critical listening demonstrates that he has spaced his preparations at intervals throughout the soundboard so that he can work with traditional and dampened strings proximate to each other. Switching back and forth at unexpected times among these sonorities fuels improvisations and creates surprise moods that induce dream-states. Delbecq’s use of time, rhythm, space, and percussion are exact but unpredictable and enhance the emotional warmth of the music.

Commentators liken Delbecq’s immediate musical influences to the founders of contemporary-classical music such as Ligeti. True enough, but contemporary-classical has its own antecedents. There exist reference CDs of touch-sensitive piano-rolls (Welte-Mignon) recorded between 1905-14 by concert pianists such as Saint-Saëns, Scriabin, and even Debussy, musicians from an era when classicists were expected to improvise within compositions. A-B comparison shows that Delbecq’s unique contemporary pianism lies in a direct lineage from those past masters and furthermore matches their originality, emotionalism, and improvisational integrity, albeit with a different and starkly futuristic sound.

Songlines SGL SA1543-2

Originally published in Planet Jazz, Montreal.

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