Raphaël Pannier Puts Out a Gorgeously Edgy, Genre-Defying Album

by delarue

Miguel Zenon was a synergistic choice as musical director for drummer Raphaël Pannier‘s latest album, Fuane, streaming at Bandcamp. Pannier has just as much fun pushing the boundaries of classical music as he does with jazz. While Zenon may be best known for his Puerto Rican jazz roots, he’s also recorded bracing, paradigm-shifting, Bartokian works for alto sax and string quartet. François Moutin joins them on bass, with Aaron Goldberg handling piano on the more straightforwardly jazz-oriented numbers, handing off to Giorgi Mikadze on the more classically-flavored tracks. It’s not every day you hear a drummer on an Olivier Messien composition – although it’s a fair bet that the composer would approve.

They open with an aptly desolate, expansive take of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. Zenon floats mournfully over Goldberg’s judiciously glittering chords as Pannier and Moutin flicker and flutter, drawing the sax down into the morass. The impressionistic lustre in Goldbedrg’s solo is a side of him we too seldom get to see on record, Zenon scampering and wailing to angst-fueled heights, then making way for Moutin’s furtive concluding dash.

Moutain stays out front for his scrambling chords and wryly dancing lines in Midtown Blues: more comedic moments ensue in what seems to be a spot-on portrait of self-important Manhattan lunch-hour madness. The quartet expand on variations on a distinctly uneasy, Middle Eastern-tinged theme in Lullaby, a deliciously pointillistic, insistent Zenon solo at the center.

Mikadze takes over piano in Pannier’s trio arrangement of Messiaen’s Le Baiser de l’Enfant Jésus, one of the final segments of his Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus suite. Zenon wafts tenderly and descends gently as the piano shifts between a warmly emphatic intensity and the composer’s signature icy, otherworldly tonalities, Pannier subtly coloring in the center.

Pannier and Goldberg bookend Wayne Shorter’s ESP with a clenched-teeth menace; in between, Zenon takes a terse, airy approach at a distance from the underlying phantasmagoria, Goldberg sprinting far from the shadows. Mikadze returns for a a reinvention of Ravel’s Forlane, Zenon switched out for Moutin. With its eerie marionettish theme and flamenco allusions, it’s a good counterpart to the Messiaen piece, Pannier setting loose waves of epic grandeur and then moments of puckish humor.

The group return to Pannier originals with Fauna, moving from uneasy, kinetically loopy phrases to a rhythmically tricky, bittersweet ballad at escape velocity, Goldberg at his lyrical peak with his ripples and cascades, Moutin spinning around frantically at the center: it’s a showstopper and the best song on the album..

They ramp up the nocturnal mood in the fugal exchanges and glittering soca party vibe of Capricho de Raphael, by Brazilian bandolinist Hamilton de Holanda. Mikadze takes over piano again on the concluding diptych, Monkey Puzzle Tree, with its carnivalesque stairstepping, Zenon a dancing pierrot in between disquieting, energetic rises and falls. They take it out on a jaunty, dancing note.

Pannier’s next gig as a leader on his home turf in France is April 23 at the Jazz in Noyon Festival. And Goldberg is playing with edgy violinist Zach Brock and bassist Matt Penman at Mezzrow on March 23, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM. Cover is $25 cash at the door.