Montreal is a set of solo piano improvisations, composed and performed by master pianist Jacob Sacks.
The 20 miniatures on the album include blues, angular, atonal pieces, free counterpoint and explorations of the timbres and sonorities of the piano. These experiments build on traditions that encompass Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley, Arnold Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
This is the musical life of Jacob Sacks as it was one morning in Montreal in 2019. The album is a byproduct of happenstance; Sacks was recording at Boutique de Son, where they had installed a new piano and invited Sacks to spend a couple of hours recording, early in the morning, before the drive back to New York City.
“I got up, went downstairs, and played,” Sacks says. “You’re hearing what happened in the order it happened.” None of the playing was edited after the fact. As he describes, Montreal is both album and process. The opening two tracks, “Arrival” and “Awakens,” are the sound of that process in real time. Sacks warms up his hands, stabbing out quick runs, testing the dynamics and the sonorities he can get through the pedals, the reverb of the instrument and room.
His thoughts are heard in real time. “You’re basically bringing your entire experience in music to that point,” to the improvisations. The title track is a blues that’s a dedication to the late, great Montreal native Bley, a pianist Sacks admired for his broad range and questioning, even mischievous attitude toward improvisation. “Bounce” could be a sequence of chords from a Monk tune, altered by Sacks’s memory, but here the pianist uses his hands and the pedals to carve out an uncanny articulated sound, something close to previous Puremagnetik Tapes releases.
Sacks’s approach to the music fits easily into the contemporary electronic music aesthetic. Genre, style, and form are all the musician’s responsibility - the only rule is to make them work. The experiments in rhythm of “Yoyo,” the haunting, unresolved phrases of “Future,” are expressions of a searching, open attitude, found in listeners as well as musicians. Sacks feels “there might be a meeting of the minds,” over Montreal. “Someone who gets past the genres will have a connection” with everything on the album. That’s sort of how it ended up on the label—Sacks and Puremagnetik owner Micah Frank met through their mutual collaborations with Chet Doxas, and the two have performed together in New York City, “bouncing sounds around.”