Pierre Favre DrumSights

Intakt CD 260

By Ken Waxman

Undoubtedly the first all-percussion group was formed when our distant ancestors began collectively banging on reverberating surfaces. Since then, like the differences between foot travel and airplane flights, drum ensembles have become more sophisticated and inventive, whether outputting traditional African sounds or replicating scores in so-called classical music. Active from 1970 to 1992, Max Roach’s M’Boom was the most notable all-percussion ensemble in jazz and improvised music. Taking sticks – and brushes – into his own hands, veteran Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre’s Singing Drums (ECM) was a 1984 international variation on that theme, featuring Brazilian Nana Vasconcelos, American Paul Motian and fellow Swiss Fredy Studer. DrumSights’ Now is the most recent iteration of this ensemble. While the quartet is now all-Swiss – Chris Jaeger, Markus Lauterburg and Valeria Zangger fill the other stools – like a contemporary meal created using a traditional recipe, quality and taste is still paramount.

Although Zangger has a notated music background while Jaeger and Lauterburg are experienced improvisers working in other bands and earlier Favre percussion ensembles, no fissure is apparent on Now’s 12 tracks. And despite Favre composing the major statements, this is primarily group music, with the rhythmically complex results both sonorous and percussive. On “Tramping” for instance the friction created by slamming four bass drums in unison could reference troops marching or the sound of rhythmic gymnastics. Meanwhile “Dance of the Feline” sounds more equine than feline with pops, plinks and rolls resembling hoof beats rather than paw patting, with the excitement level heighted into an intense quartet dead-heat finish. Wood block and cymbal accents break up wire brush gymnastics on “Brushes Flock”, but the timing and adroitness resemble the aural capturing of tap dancers’ art.

Combining the rugged intensity of African polyrhythms, the boldness of theatrical underscoring and the exquisite between-the-beat sophistication of jazz drummers, this newest chapter in Favre’s on-going percussion discussion will interest more than drummers. Who says you can’t follow the beat of a different drum?

Tracks: 1. Again 2. Brushes Flock 3. Roasting Syncope 4. Dance of the Feline 5. Sycamore 6. Along 7. Pow Wow 8. Painted Face 9. Tramping 10. Woolly Jumper 11. Nuevel 12. Games

Personnel: Pierre Favre, Chris Jaeger, Markus Lauterburg and Valeria Zangger (drums and percussion)