Pierre Favre Ensemble: Fleuve (ECM 1977)

Fleuve

Pierre Favre Ensemble
Fleuve

Philipp Schaufelberger guitar
Frank Kroll soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
Hélène Breschand harp
Michel Godard tuba, serpent
Wolfgang Zwiauer bass guitar
Bänz Oester double-bass
Pierre Favre percussion, drums
Recorded October 2005, Volkshaus Basel
Engineer: Daniel Dettwiler
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A vital current in the European jazz circuit for decades, Pierre Favre gets full spotlight as composer on Fleuve, which finds the Swiss percussionist in the company of a most unusual ensemble that includes two bassists, tuba, harp, reeds, and guitar. The album certainly lives up to its name, which means “river” in French, and accordingly funnels springs and streams into a larger, contrapuntal current.

Although every musician contributes viable color to the Fleuve palette, the alizarin crimson of harpist Hélène Breschand, forest green of bassist Bänz Oester, sky blue of guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger, and the sunlit soprano saxophone of Frank Kroll (also on bass clarinet) add especially noteworthy streaks to the emerging image. Of that image, track titles such as “Mort d’Eurydice” and “Reflet Sud” give us tantalizing hints, reflecting a mythology as personal as it is timeless.

The music is delicately paced, and spins from that core group (with Favre’s adaptive rhythms completing the pentagon) a narrative of elemental conversion. Whether through the spiraling hide and seek of “Panama” or the angled wingspan of “Albatros,” Favre and his bandmates change up combinations, switching above and below, with seamless intuition. One moment might find a theme pouring from the group in tutti, while the next shifts into a duet of guitar and brushed drums, or harp and bass, that strings every melody with care.

Hints of enchantment abound, as in the bass clarinet ambling along the banks of the “Nile” or the medieval song that ghosts the inner sanctum of “Decors.” As throughout the album, gestures abound with glorious promise and find realization through Favre’s orchestral sensitivity.

An album of sense and originality, this is the pinnacle of Favre’s ECM output.

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Pierre Favre: Window Steps (ECM 1584)

Pierre Favre
Window Steps

Kenny Wheeler trumpet and fluegelhorn
Roberto Ottaviano soprano saxophone
David Darling cello
Steve Swallow bass
Pierre Favre drums, percussion
Recorded April 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Yet another inspired coming together, as could only have occurred under ECM producer Manfred Eicher’s purview, Window Steps plants percussionist Pierre Favre among a crop of wonderful musicians, casting us into an altered state from note one and holding us there until the last. Cellist David Darling makes a welcome appearance, exuding aquatic songs alongside soprano saxophonist Robert Ottaviano over tender ostinatos from bassist Steve Swallow. Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler gilds this mosaic with surprisingly warm strains in “Snow.” Favre’s presence is limited in this opening piece to an undulating current of cymbals, bringing more forthright drumming only in “Cold Nose,” which after a resounding call unleashes guitar-like storytelling from Swallow. Metal is the reigning element of “Lea,” which cuts a winding path of breath through a soft and sultry theme. Wheeler and Ottaviano are notably bonded here, spinning around Darling’s filamented core. What begins as a reverie in “Girimella” turns into a jazzy ride, adding a twinge of excitement to an otherwise sustained program. Stepping through a droning neap tide of beauty, we come to the final “Passage,” carrying us out like a wooden boat on dark waters, across which we drift into the land of nod.

A quiet album for quiet days, relic from some forgotten shore, washed up to our feet in hopes that we might reach down and touch the dreams we’ve missing.

Tamia/Pierre Favre: Solitudes (ECM 1446)

Tamia
Pierre Favre
Solitudes

Tamia voice
Pierre Favre percussion
Recorded April 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Tamia and partner Pierre Favre continue the love letter begun in de la nuit … le jour with Solitudes. Tamia opens this even deeper dive in “Chant d’Exil” by wrapping her astonishing voice around a thread-like drone. Favre’s malleted energy unspools into a glassine bone walk of private ritual. And there it ends, leaving us in the silent answer from which “Drame” unmasks its rasps and gongs. Tamia upends the water’s waking dreams, singing of sulfur and magma, in places where lullabies can be sung only to the dead. The thin drone of circumstance returns in “Clair -­ obscur.” It is a circle under a microscope slide filled with cytoplasmic ululations, a flute hollowed out from a tree branch and smeared along a copper sky. That voice rises from its chorused depths like a flock of recorders. “Pluies” is a percussion-only piece, dancing between a drum’s low beat and the metallic swirl of cymbals. Amphibian croaks and avian cackles draw themselves into a fading tail-wisp of bowed gongs. Shades of Meredith Monk abound in “Allegria,” an interlude to the electrifying sprawl of “Erba Luce.” Over the slow arpeggios of “Sables” Tamia connects her dots all the way to the title track, which sings through a solemn organ pulled down from the sky and made earthly through breath alone. Tamia extends the threads of her craft through its intangible pillars for a mythology that echoes far into the icy silence of our future.

Pierre Favre Ensemble: Singing Drums (ECM 1274)

Pierre Favre Ensemble
Singing Drums

Pierre Favre drums, gongs, crotales, cymbals
Paul Motian drums, gongs, crotales, calebasses, rodbrushes
Fredy Studer drums, gongs, cymbals
Nana Vasconcelos berimbau, voice, tympani, conga, water pot, shakers, bells
Recorded May 27 and 28, 1984, Mohren, Willisau
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Singing Drums brings together some of ECM’s most formidable percussionists in this one-off incarnation of the Pierre Favre Ensemble. For this date, Favre welcomes Paul Motian, Fredy Studer, and Nana Vasconcelos into his fold. The results are, while brilliant, likely to be overlooked due to the special interest of its instrumental makeup. Let this not deter anyone, however, from experiencing its wonders. What I love most about this session is that each player’s style is so instantly recognizable. Between the twangy call of Vasconcelos’s berimbau, the crotales of Favre, the delicate cymbals of Studer, and Motian’s earthly patter, we can easily tease out every thread of conversation being woven before us.

One finds in these atmospheres broad intimations of times and places, a blurring of geographic and cultural signatures into a mosaic of worldly mindedness, a space where human and animal blur into one another, such that the hands of the player become the keen pounce of a lion in the bush and the leap of the gazelle who thwarts it. Drones and footsteps exchange glances amid the branches of the opening “Rain Forest,” while other tracks like “Metal Birds” work in more clipped gestures. Vasconcelos’s chanting is a vital thread here, and seeks only to enhance the pitch-bent drums and other sinuous energies around him.

This is a profound album of subtle creativity that gets only deeper with every listen. Anyone who knows these performers will not expect an all-out frenzy, but the careful and porous readings of “Edge Of The Wing” and “Prism,” not to mention the whispered accents of “Frog Song.” Theirs is a journey both of anthropology and dislocation, a masterful text written “Beyond The Blue,” which leaves us to ponder the cries of our ancestors, as countless as the stars above our heads.

Barre Phillips: Music By… (ECM 1178)

 

Barre Phillips
Music By…

Barre Phillips bass
Aina Kemanis voice
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet
Herve Bourde alto and tenor saxophones, flutes
Claudia Phillips voice
Pierre Favre drums, percussion
Recorded May 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Long before Twitter was a microblogging phenomenon, it was the name of the first cut on this out-of-print gem from Barre Phillips. Thankfully, there is nothing micro about it. Driven by train-like syncopation from drums and bass clarinet, this attention-grabbing burst of virtuosity introduces us to the bubbling acrobatics of daughter Claudia Phillips, a vocalist whose career as chanteuse found a niche in France in the 80s. Her sometimes-manic instincts are swept down the stream of Aina Kemanis, the voice of Journal Violone II. Together they form a magic triangle with John Surman’s own sinewy lines. With such exuberance and glottal depth as Claudia displays here, one can hardly keep one’s ears focused on anything but her brilliance. Her siren-like spindles prove to be a guiding force in the more freely improvised “Angleswaite” and, with Kemanis, trace fluid arcs in “Elvid Kursong” and drop like spores in “Pirthrite.” The latter is a bizarrely martial excursion that is at once march and requiem, made all the more so through the liquid alto of Herve Bourde. These facets contract into a single plane in “Longview.” Here, Claudia comes to life in a bubbling stutter, soon overtaken by Bourde’s tenor, left of center. “Entai” and “Double Treble” sound like an ice-skating bass and clarinet struggling for balance over a warping record, compressing the album into more rudimentary ciphers.

This is yet another fascinating cell in the stained glass window that is Barre Phillips, capturing both the thrill and pain of modernism and those quiet moments, few and far between, where the soul kisses the brow of alienation. The content is brought to fervent life by an impassioned participation that frolics at the intersection of speech and song. As a longtime fan of the Cocteau Twins and Elizabeth Fraser’s voice that drives it, I have sometimes wondered what she might have sounded like had she made an ECM album. With Music By… we begin to approach one possible answer.

Paul Giger: Alpstein (ECM 1426)

1426

Paul Giger
Alpstein

Paul Giger violin
Jan Garbarek tenor saxophone
Pierre Favre percussion
Musicians from Appenzell (Switzerland) silvesterchlauseschuppel, schellenschötter
Recorded 1990/91 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo; 1990 at Trogen
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The first time I heard Swiss violinist Paul Giger, my soul might well have wept. His is a spiritualism beyond the trappings of human politics, a stage populated by human-animal hybrids, faceless musicians, and dancers of many forms. For this, his follow-up album, Giger is joined by saxophonist Jan Garbarek and percussionist Pierre Favre in a sonic portrait of his homeland. Delving into living folk traditions, this trio gives us as wintry a feeling as possible without ever stepping foot in into the Alps. Yet this is no mere sonic postcard, but a concerted effort to flip the land inside out and expose, as from under the logs we overturned as children, the life teeming within.

Anita's Alpstein
(Photo credit: Anita Brechbühl)

This music came into my life when I still had a violin in my hands. At the time, I was struggling with the idea of expressing my inner voice through an external instrument. Hearing Giger showed me it was possible, and this album’s second piece, Karma Shadub (Dancing Star), is something I played quite often in my ultimately futile attempts to emulate a sound that was beyond me. I even performed it once with an interpretive dancer at a high school assembly. Though the violin soon faded from my grasp, I remain ever in its shadow, a humble and open listener of its masters, of which Giger is a nonpareil example. Every dissolve of Karma reveals new visual combinations, each so rudimentary, so fundamentally alive. Garbarek’s throaty call dovetails with Giger’s in a symbiosis of dance and darkness. Alpsegen introduces the album’s first percussive colors. A caravan of metallic nomads, ranging from tambura to cymbals, processes across an ever-widening sound palette. Cowbells recede like ancestors as Giger leaps in evolutionary pirouettes. On Chuereihe, Garbarek revisits the herding calls that enthralled on Dansere, and climbs the peaks into which the cover photography beckons us. Giger’s violin here is sometimes insectile, sometimes onomatopoetic, but always anchored by Favre’s deepening drums. Chlauseschuppel gives us a taste of the Appenzeller bells, rung at the end of every year to ward off foul spirits as the new one is welcomed.

Silvesterchläuse by Vera Rüttimann
(Photo credit: Vera Rüttimann)

When I first heard Trogener Chilbiläbe, which closes the disc, its backdrop of urban sounds led me to believe it had been recorded in a church with the door flung open. Its inspiring solo cycles of fast runs and soaring meditations end with a slam, as if shutting out the noise of the outside world. Only later did I discover that the door in question belongs to a prison cell, and that the piece was recorded in the jail where Giger must serve out a few days of each year for refusing to pay military tax. As insightful as these biographical minutiae are, it is the Zäuerli, a haunting yodel particular to the Alpstein region making three appearances here, that is the album’s lifeblood. In order to evoke its polyphonic splendor via a single instrument, Giger taps his fingers on open strings, eliciting harmonics from within. These hidden voices are his aesthetic soil. As we come to be wrapped in their atmospheric blankets, we are awakened even as we slumber.

Alpstein is a cosmic alignment. Like all of the violinist’s albums, it is markedly different from the rest but digs just as deeply. Giger may not always look to the same future, but he does draw from the same mythic past. His playing is only one step removed from breath, for every stroke of the bow enriches the universe like air to a lung.

Tamia/Pierre Favre: de la nuit … le jour (ECM New Series 1364)

 

Tamia
Pierre Favre
de la nuit … le jour

Tamia voice
Pierre Favre percussion
Recorded October 1987, Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre and vocalist Tamia combine forces here for their first ECM outing. Through a modest array of idiophones and objects both synthetic and organic, this uniquely synergistic duo makes music that is circumscribed yet wide in scope. Much of the album is cut from the same cloth. “Ballade,” “Yemanjá,” and “Maroua” all feature a thin gamelan-like drone that Tamia threads with a needle’s precision, sometimes in triplicate. Favre’s subtler elicitations bob like a wind chime under water and only occasionally break out into passages of rhythmic abandon. The title track is the profoundest statement this album has to offer. It undulates with an abstract mysticism through which a rare moment of unison is achieved to glorious effect. A bowed gong looms as Tamia’s voice flutters like a moth in darkness. And in this gloomy swell of introspection we find a clouded mirror that might reflect us were there any light to render us visible. “Mit Sang und Klang” mixes a similar concoction, climbing the scales to suspend its high notes from the very stars. “Wood Song” is the most evocative track with its orchestra of sticks, woodblocks, and brushes. Like a congregation of cicadas, the music rattles the leaves with its song. Hand drums and an African thumb piano add a touch of the open plains, aided minimally by Tamia’s histrionic touch.

While this is a difficult album to describe, its effect is anything but. Tamia is clearly at home among Favre’s multicolored sounds. She sings from deep within the chest, producing some of the most skillful ululations I have ever heard. She treats her voice like an instrument, a physical object, in a way that singers rarely do. Her carefully controlled mantras tear the darkness like a frayed seam and waste no time in letting the light in before bringing about their own expiration. The atmosphere is pure magic and as well suited to twilight as it is to a sunrise at dawn.