Friday, June 22, 2007


Pierre Favre Ensemble
ECM 1977

Some music is a challenge to listen to on an ipod in the subway—its subtleties are easily overwhelmed by garbled announcements and jostling passengers. Such is the case with Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre’s latest ECM release, Fleuve, which consistently creates intriguing sound portraits through its unusual instrumentation, that demand closer listening.

While Favre’s compositions often start sounding quite diffuse, the drummer and his compatriots are patient as fishermen, eventually coming together to extract satisfying melodies from abstract beginnings. The opener, “Mort d’Eurydice,” is a perfect example, beginning with the foreboding sounds of Favre’s percussion and Hélène Brechand’s plucked harp, eventually melting into a classically elegiac melody carried by Frank Kroll’s soprano.

“Panama” follows, demonstrating a similar extended prologue, in this case featuring percussion, harp, and guitar, before Kroll’s bass clarinet comes in around the 3:30 mark, introducing a somewhat up-tempo melody. Guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger and Kroll take short, but expressive solos before the surprisingly abrupt ending.

“Reflex Sud” is probably the closest Favre’s compositions come to traditional bop, starting with a brief almost Blakey-style drum solo intro before Kroll’s soprano takes over, propelled along by Bänz Oester’s bass. It is followed by the exotic sounding “Fire Red—Gas Blue—Ghost Green,” another composition that should be easily accessible to a wide array of listeners. Featuring pungent solos by Schaufelberger and Kroll, on bass clarinet, it illustrates Favre’s diverse world music influences.

Favre’s choice of instrumentation, including at times bass clarinet, tuba, serpent, bass guitar, and bass, may sound heavy to the point of unwieldiness, but his melodic accents and the intricate interplay of voices actually keep things on a lighter, airy plane.

Favre takes a painterly approach to percussion that well serves his compositions. Hearing them evolve from the freely ethereal to the melodic makes Fleuve a fascinating listen.