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Michel Benita Ethics: River Silver

Karl Ackermann By

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The Algerian born bassist, Michel Benita, has been an active presence on the European jazz scene for three decades. Now Paris-based, he has played with guitarist Marc Ducret, Dino Saluzzi and Archie Shepp among many other well known artists. At the end of the 1990s he cofounded the ELB Trio with French guitarist Nguyên Lê and drummer Peter Erskine. With River Silver, Benita's group, Ethics, brings a global flavor that aligns with his past musical career choices as well as breaking with traditional group formations.

Benita's most obvious manipulation of group dynamics is the inclusion of cross-cultural Japanese koto player, Mieko Miyazaki. The thirteen-string—or, in some cases, seventeen—instrument is a rarity in jazz but, most notably, was half of the duo album 11 Compositions (Duo) (Leo Records, 1995) with Anthony Braxton and Brett Larner. Elsewhere, there are six degrees of separation within Ethics. Swiss trumpeter Matthieu Michel has been a long-time participant in the Vienna Art Orchestra and has worked with Benita in a number of groups. Matthieu had also fronted a quintet that included Ethics guitarist Eivind Aarset, who in turn, worked with Benita on Andy Sheppard's Surrounded By Sea (ECM, 2015). Drummer Philippe Garcia worked with Benita on a number of Blue Note recordings of French trumpeter Erik Truffaz.

The compositions on River Silver include six Benita originals. The pieces are intimate, even in the face of the unusual instrumentation and subtle electronics. Opening with "Back From The Moon," a lyrically spacey groove, Miyazaki's koto brings an animated feel to the tune before Michel's elegant solo cloaks the piece in a beautifully played melody. The title track is highlighted by the contrasting and blending of the koto's lucidity with Benita's deep bass. A dream-like "I See Altitudes" gives way to the eclectic "Off The Coast" where Miyazaki's folk infusion meets the stateliness of the flugelhorn and Aarset's muted electronics. "Toonari" is one of the more arresting of the pieces on the album with its quivering bird-like electronics at the start; the lightness of the koto is countered by Garcia's quietly thundering drums. "Snowed In" effectively conveys the melancholy resignation of confinement.

It can sometimes be the case in creative chamber music, that aesthetics build a psychological firewall. What may seem almost ambient initially, can reveal complexity on deeper listening. On first listen, River Silver seems dominated by Michel's flugelhorn and Miyazaki's koto but subsequent plays reveal far more depth and intricacy; involving melodies and evocative passages spring up, interweave, and fade. Each of these compositions are executed in a manner that is both graceful and intense. It's a testament to both the score and the improvisational skills of these artists.

Track Listing: Back From The Moon; River Silver; I See Altitudes; Off The Coast; Yeavering; Toonari; Hacihi Gatsu; Lykken; Snowed In.

Personnel: Michel Benita: double bass; Matthieu Michel: flugelhorn; Mieko Miyazaki: koto; Eivind Aarset: guitar, electronics; Philippe Garcia: drums.

Title: River Silver | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ECM Records

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