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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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River Silver

ECM 475 9393



  1. Back From The Moon

  2. River Silver

  3. I See Altitudes

  4. Off The Coast

  5. Yeavering

  6. Toonari

  7. Hacihi Gatsu

  8. Lykken

  9. Snowed In

Michel Benita - Double bass

Matthieu Michel - Flugelhorn

Mieko Miyazaki - Koto

Eivind Aarset - Guitar, electronics

Philippe Garcia - Drums

River Silver marks the debut as a leader for ECM of the Algiers-born, Paris-domiciled, double bass player and composer, Michel Benita. Benita had previously featured on the ECM releases Trio Libero (2011) with Andy Sheppard and Seb Rochford and on Surrounded By Sea (2014) Here he draws together an interesting mixture of musicians and instruments for his Ethics band. These include the Swiss Matthieu Michel on flugelhorn, Mieko Miyazaki from Tokyo playing the traditional Japanese stringed instrument, the koto, and Eivind Aarset from Norway on guitar and electronics. Aarset has had a couple of albums released under his own name for ECM as well as recording with a number of the label's other artistes, including Sheppard (Movements In Colour, Surrounded By Sea). The group is completed by drummer Philippe Garcia.

Strangely enough, the title track, River Silver, isn't quite as successful as much else on this engaging CD. It has an experimental edge to it, producing a soundscape effect. That said, Michel's moody (and Kenny Wheeler-like) performance on flugelhorn has appeal. Six of the nine tracks are compositions by Benita himself, the best of which are I See Altitudes and Off The Coast. On I See Altitudes we find a strong and atmospheric theme with something from everyone in the group, all of it worth hearing. Miyazaki is particularly interesting, given that her instrument will be unfamiliar to most Western ears. To me it sounds like a zither at times. Off The Coast simply flows. Benita's sturdy bass and the poignant sound of Michel's flugelhorn come across well. Mieko Miyazaki has composed one of the other wholly successful pieces on the disc, namely Hacihi Gatsu. The koto and bass interaction is excellent and helps to make this sparkling track even more enjoyable. I was impressed by Lykken, too, where the clarity of Benita's playing shows how accomplished he is and a fetching melody brings out the strengths of the entire band. I should also mention what might seem to be an interloper, a folk tune from the pen of Northumbrian piper and fiddler, Kathryn Tickell. Listeners with a folk background will be intrigued by how well it has translated to another genre and remains beautiful and mysterious.

Overall, this album represented an absorbing experience. Each musician brought something distinctive to the occasion. It's good to confirm once more that instruments not normally associated with jazz, in this case the koto, can still be a pleasing element in the mix. Benita's playing reflects the French bassist's considerable contact over the years with top American visitors to Europe as well as with the continent's finest jazz musicians. He has also clearly absorbed the influence of the great bass-players of the tradition while adding his own distinctive stamp. Looking at my notes on this album, too, it's a tribute to Matthieu Michel how often the flugelhorn is referred to in glowing terms. Above all, though, it is the cohesiveness of the Ethics musicians that will linger in the memory and Aarset and Garcia must take their full share of the credit for that.

James Poore

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