Michael Duke, RootsWorld Bulletin #357, US, 29-06-06,
Jean-Christophe Renault's music defies easy categorization. The composer and pianist straddles the boundaries between classical, folk, and minimalism to create works that combine the textures of French impressionism (Erik Satie is a notable influence), the atmospherics of post-rock ensembles like Rachel's, and the creative use of repetition characterized by Harold Budd. Despite his impressionist bent, he shares with the Romantics a restless exploration of folk musical forms.
While Renault's sublime previous release, Là est la Question, consisted of solo piano pieces, his current CD showcases a collaboration with the prolific diatonic accordionist Didier Laloy. The result is a series of compelling chamber pieces performed by two master players. As on Question, Renault composed all of the pieces on Hors-piste, except for a brief excerpt from Schubert's "Voyage d'hiver" on one track. Although this release lacks some of the haunting intimacy of his earlier work, the collaboration opens up Renault's pieces to more varied sonic possibilities. For example, the autumnal title track, as performed on Question, had a seductively insular quality. The current version of "Hors-Piste," in contrast, is more texturally varied, with the accordion serving to highlight the piece's roots in French folk music.
Some of the qualities that made Question such a transcendent work can be found on "Valse por un Sosie," the only track where Renault performs unaccompanied. This brief piece draws the listener in to an emotional world of melancholy and a frayed nostalgia tinged with regret.
For Laloy in particular, these sessions undoubtedly presented unique challenges, since the tightly arranged pieces allow less room for improvisation than in much of his other work. Laloy's distinct musical personality nonetheless shows through, as on "Ziguinchor," where his taut, rhythmically astute accompaniment and dry musical tone provides an interesting contrast to Renault's more lush style of playing. The effective use of these contrasting styles can also be found on "E.F.G.D." which begins in an almost dirge-like fashion, only to lead into an hypnotically syncopated main theme.
Although a wistful melancholic tone pervades many of these pieces, others provide moments of pure joy, as in "Ziguinchor" and the sun-drenched "Les Petits Doigts Bulgares."As with his previous work, one sometimes wishes that Renault would explore more dissonances in his work, rather than relying so singularly on the beautiful melodies that he is apparently able to draw from the air.
Nonetheless, Hors-piste presents a unique collaboration between two fascinating players, and a rich sonic experience for the listener