Benjamin Moussay ‘Promontoire’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Over the last 50 years, ECM has had a long tradition of releasing solo piano recordings, Keith Jarrett being the most obvious. It’s nice to see a new name coming to the fore; French pianist Benjamin Moussay. I was extremely impressed with his contribution on last year’s Louis Sclavis release “Characters on a wall”, and in many ways, “Promontoire” feels like a more intimate extension of the pianist’s thoughtful and reflective lyricism heard on that and other Sclavis recordings.

Given the nature of solo recordings, it’s fair to say that “Promontoire” is naturally a self-portrait of its maker, touching upon many aspects of Moussay’s life and influences. Although it was the solo piano recordings of Thelonious Monk that first fired Moussay’s imagination, installing a love of jazz subsequently nurtured in parallel with classical studies and it’s only in recent years that he has embraced the solo format himself. I respect the fact that Moussay has taken his time getting to this point where he felt it was right to record a solo album. Having been working extensively with his trio, the pianist felt that his initial solo concerts were too focussed on written material, with little improvisation. The more he played, the more he wanted to let go and improvise. His compositions became more and more reduced, often to just the essential elements of a melody and a few chords. And so this is the starting point for this recording.

Moussay’s playing is both delicate and imaginative. The pieces recorded here offer an insight into his reflective style, with structured, melodic moments blurring into spontaneous improvisation. The pianist has that rare gift of time and space within his music. As a listener, I can feel these moments unfold and sense the preciousness of each note being played.

Inspired by Danny Boyle’s film “127 Hours”, the opening track “127” introduces us to the expressive and intimate nature of the pianist’s style. As the album develops, through the cinematic soundscapes of “Theme for Nana”, “Horses” and “The Fallen”, all composed as new music to accompany old silent films, we get a sense that the pianist is totally at home and relaxed with the fact that wherever the music takes him is just fine. “Sotto Voice” reveals Moussay’s Chopin romantic side, with the energised “Don’t Look Down” offering a more active side to the pianist’s fingers.

All in all, a consummate performance from Moussay across the twelve tracks recorded here. An excellent introduction to the man and his music, with much promise for the future.

Mike Gates