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Drummer, composer, arranger, and percussionist extraordinaire Pierre Favre returns to ECM as a leader on this 2007 date with his most recent version of the Pierre Favre Ensemble. As one would expect, this group has a deep bottom end with his own drums, the double bass of Banz Oëster, the bass guitarist Wolfgang Zwiauer, and the tuba and serpent playing of Michel Godard. Middle- to high-end instruments are played by guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger, soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Frank Kroll, and harpist Hélène Breschand. With such a firm low-end weight, the listener might expect something very different than what is heard: these tunes are often breezy, airy, and light (as in color). Certainly the beautiful anchors of tuba and serpent, and the way they balance the basses, are wonderful, as on "Reflet Sud," but Schaufelberger's guitar-playing moves them into a beautiful middle-range improvisation with the tuba and bass playing contrapuntally and Kroll coming in to center the piece's melody. Elsewhere, such as on "Panama," the low-end theory offers a skeletal framework for an actual tune to unfold. There are shimmering figures from the double bass and harp and slippery, skeletal hand percussion in the back as the bass rumbles underneath. But then a short flash of cymbals dances through the middle, a guitar approximates a melody, and from all this ethereal gauze, a gorgeous group improvisation gels into something else. The gauzy ethereality makes its presence most known on the halting double bass and bass guitar entrance of "Fire Red-Gas Blue-Ghost Green," which unfolds thanks to Kroll and Schaufelberger into an open and knotty jazz tune that flirts with Middle Eastern modalities and even melody before transforming itself into another kind of improvisation. Fleuve is an album of gorgeous, flowing textures and sound colors that seduce the listener toward them, bringing them slowly along through the recording. The space in Manfred Eicher's production encourages this, providing an unhurried sense of time's stasis and making the recording all the more appealing. Beautiful.
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