By Ed Enright | Published October 2020
French-born drummer-composer Raphaël Pannier made a smart choice when he called upon one of his mentors, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, to provide the musical direction for his first album as a leader. Featuring four Pannier compositions, plus a selection of French classical pieces and jazz standards, Faune merges Pannier’s European upbringing and classical studies with his more recent experiences as an improvising performer and teacher living in America. Zenón, who plays on five tracks, took an active role in helping Pannier conceive ways to bridge those seemingly disparate worlds—much as the acclaimed saxophonist has done in linking his own Puerto Rican heritage with modern jazz concepts.
Nonoriginal repertoire on Faune extends from Maurice Ravel (“Forlane”), Olivier Messiaen (“Le Baiser de l’Enfant Jésus”) and Hamilton de Holanda (“Capricho de Raphaël”) to Wayne Shorter (“E.S.P.”) and Ornette Coleman (“Lonely Woman”). In addition to Zenón and Pannier, the lineup includes two extremely versatile pianists—Aaron Goldberg from the jazz world and Giorgi Mikadze from the classical realm—as well as bassist François Moutin. Some electronic enhancements come into play as well, with Pannier providing synthesizer programming for his dramatic intro and outro to “E.S.P.,” and internationally recognized keyboardist and producer Jacob Bergson contributing tasteful atmospheric effects on the Ravel piece. Highlights among the Pannier originals include the swinging “Midtown Blues,” with a remarkable, highly stylized bass solo by Moutin; the dark, ambiguous slow-mover “Lullaby,” which hypnotizes with its dreamlike repetition; and “Monkey Puzzle Tree,” which closes out the album with a climactic exchange between Zenón and Pannier over a simple two-note vamp.
Throughout Faune, Pannier plays to his strengths as an imaginative colorist and a master of textures whose light touch on the drum kit brings to mind the delicate brushstrokes of an impressionistic painter.