Drummer Pierre Favre displays such sensitivity to tonal nuance on his instrument that it’s little wonder his compositions burst with felicitous detail. Drawing on the resources of an unconventional ensemble (when was the last time the dragon, an unwieldy military horn with 16th-century origins, popped up in a jazz context, or any at all?). Favre rigorously transforms Fleuve into a kaleidoscope of surprising musical colors.
Well, nearly surprising. While the imaginative combinations of electric and acoustic basses, harp, electric guitar, bass clarinet, tuba, percussion and the aforementioned dragon distinguish the project, the use of piping soprano saxophone (as played by the adept Frank Kroll, who shines on bass clarinet) can land the quirky group sound back in overly familiar ECM territory. A niggling complaint perhaps, but Favre demonstrates the kind of masterly arranging skills in which even small missteps mar the landscape.
When Favre’s on, however, all is forgiven. Particularly effective are the morphing “Nile,” which sets off the low-end dragon against the pinging harp; “Decors,” with Favre’s evocative hand-drumming breaking past a stately theme; and “Albatros,” enlivened by guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger’s clear-toned lyricism. Favre’s own meticulous playing and selfless adherence to big-picture equilibrium—that the drummer is the album’s linchpin would come as a shock in a blindfold listening—is matched by each member of his finely balanced ensemble. Is this lean toward scrupulous craft emblematic of Favre’s Swiss background? May future recordings from this bracing septet provide further clues.