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A not-so-dry January

Throughout the 31 days of January this year, the French pianist Johann Bourquenez took part in a project called Jamuary: each day of the month, participants created a short solo piece and published it online. It’s really an event for electronic musicians, but Bourquenez decided to present his pieces on the digital piano he uses at home. Now he’s put together 16 of these miniatures, ranging in length from 0:36 to 3:46, as a €3 package on Bandcamp.

I’ve liked his playing since I first heard Plaistow, the Swiss-based group in which he played for 10 years, at the 2014 London Jazz Festival. Their albums, including Citadelle and Titan, put them among a clutch of piano trios — alongside the Necks, Triosk and even GoGo Penguin — who were stretching the format. Now Bourquenez is pursuing solo projects.

Participants in Jamuary are given daily prompts. These might take the form of a key or a tempo, and they can be followed or not. Bourquenez’s pieces head in all sorts of directions, in a sense providing an exploded diagram of the elements that make up his own music. It’s a bit like what might happen if you filmed all the pieces played in a single day by the pianists using the instruments in the concourse of St Pancras International station and edited them into a 30-minute film.

There are pieces built on drones, repetition and strumming alongside standards — “Bye Bye Blackbird”, “Body and Soul”. There are rhythmic games (the lopsided tango “7 and 5”), charming fragments (“A Little Sad Waltz”) and a moment of sober reflection in his reading of Charlie Haden’s “Silence”, which you can hear above. Pure romance (“Diminished Epicness”) sits alongside astringent modernism (“Atmospheric Moumoune”).

And all for the price of a morning cappuccino. These are strange times.


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