Exclaim!'s Top 10 Improv & Avant-Garde Albums Best of 2016



 
Jean-Michel Blais
Il
(Arts & Crafts)
 
After becoming discouraged by the rigid nature of his conservatory studies at age 17, Canadian pianist Jean-Michel Blais began asking bigger questions about classical piano and what music could be. His belief that the style should be viewed as a living thing, as opposed to sounds of centuries past, is reflected on his debut record, Il. Blais's playing is at once immersive and intricate, able to appeal to both genre purists and casual listeners. As he told Exclaim! earlier this year, striking such a balance is, to him, playing "both cards at the same time."
 
Blais's recording method was also instrumental in moving his music beyond the genre's rigidity he once found so stifling. Sounds of his own breathing, children speaking, birds singing and mechanical noises from a friend's camera were all captured by the handheld audio recorder within his apartment studio, giving life to Il and Blais's musings on music.
Calum Slingerland