In the vast history of jazz piano, there have been very few pianists who sound like no one else. One is Benoît Delbecq. For some he will offer intriguing new stimuli. For others he will present insurmountable barriers to entry. A third category of listener, which includes your present correspondent, will experience both reactions, wavering between curiosity and alienation
Delbecq is a seeker whose preoccupations are intellectual, austere, and arcane. The album cover is a drawing of a mobile because, according to press notes, Delbecq “began recognizing how hanging mobiles wield influence over his relationship to music and … artistic expression.” He is also motivated by mathematics and architecture.
So what does music sound like when inspired by such sources rather than by more conventional ones like, say, human love and loss and hope? It sounds like constellations of aural images, randomized, without the binding principles of harmonic context, melodic logic, and temporal movement. Instead of continuity there is adjacency. Naked notes clang and ring in space. Delbecq uses prepared piano to create “loops” of repetitive rhythm tracks. It is a bold decision in music that already risks monotony and stasis.
At moments, on pieces like “Dripping Stones” and “Au Fil de la Parole,” Delbecq achieves effects analogous to abstract painting. Divorced from representation, music can become sound itself, as paint can become pure color. But, for your admittedly struggling present correspondent, the only truly successful track is the final one, “Broken World.” The Weight of Light was recorded in March of 2020 as the world was shutting down. On “Broken World,” Delbecq abandons subjective abstraction and ties his music to external events, in dark partial chords and fragmented melodies separated by silence. Perhaps only independent operators like Delbecq are capable of rendering the strangeness and desolation of the pandemic.