Jean-Michel Blais returns with new album aubades

September 3, 2021

Following the 2019 soundtrack release of Matthias & Maxime, Mercury KX are thrilled to share Jean-Michel Blais’s upcoming LP aubades.

The new album from the Montreal-based icon of modern-classical music shows a new side to the artist, or as he says

‘’What I loved most during that period was running or biking while listening to my demos and watching nature return to the city, while it was so quiet. Nature just went out of control.” Blais is reluctant to catagorise “aubades” as a pandemic album, or indeed a breakup album. “These are things we all experience,” he says. “But at the same time, it was a super fruitful moment of creativity for me. We started having hares in the park, beautiful butterflies were everywhere. It was a time of lots of blossoming, and also a moment when I blossomed from being a pianist into a composer.”

As well as deciding to write for an ensemble, certain other parameters for the project coalesced in Blais’s thinking. “With this album, I was definitely responding to certain trends in classical music,” Blais reckons. “For example, the fact that the solo piano tends to always sounds melancholic. That’s good, but I’ve done that already, I wanted to go beyond that. It was also the first time I’ve ever written so much in major, not minor. So much of piano music, especially in this modern classical music world, is in minor. I wanted to go there but without being kitsch.

And then, things got real. “The day the musicians came in was one of the most challenging of my life,” Blais recalls. “Suddenly I had 11 brilliant, trained musicians in front of me. I couldn’t have been more artistically vulnerable than in that moment. Even playing piano in front of them and exposing my own vulnerability as a player was so hard, let alone being a composer for the first time too. But, of course, they were so nice and kind. Hearing live music after almost a year made my brain burst, let alone them playing music which I’d written. Hearing something I’d worked on for a year coming to life was incredible. Almost everyone there hadn’t played for a year themselves. There was so much love and joy in that room at that moment.”

Blais recorded all the musicians with close-up microphones, in contrast the the reverby single mic traditions of most booming classical music, in part to give the sound a much-needed dose of humanity. “At the end of one song, you can hear the double bass just snapping and fuzzing, on others you can hear the players breathing just before they play. Other times you hear the creaking of instruments and the mechanics of a flute or oboe. It all speaks to the human behind the instruments. Sometimes we hear some chairs creaking, or some people whispering, stuff the mics just happen to capture. It’s a nice reminder that there are actual human beings behind the sounds and the instruments.”