Exclaim!'s Top 27 Albums of 2016 So Far

13. Jean-Michel Blais
(Arts & Crafts)

A revelatory release from someone who had to be convinced to even release an album, Il finds Quebecois pianist Jean-Michel Blais offering up one of the most delightful and intimate records of 2016.

While the piano is the composer's main instrument, the incidental sounds that sneak into his self-recorded debut likewise contribute to its preciousness: there's the airy, weather-like whirr and selected tiny voices that stretch across opening number "Hasselblad 4," an audio snapshot of a day wherein local children were making the most of the urban outdoors while Blais created another realm within his apartment.

The various movements of Il — from the contemplative spaciousness of its title track, to the ambient glaze holding together "Nostos," to the playful pace of "Budapest — have neo-classical fans crying out for more from the minimalist composer.
Gregory Adams