CD review

Michel Benita Quartet – “Looking At Sounds”

Michel Benita Quartet – Looking At Sounds
(ECM 6025 0872884. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Michel Benita is a a French bass player born in Algeria. He is mainly known in the UK for his playing with Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero, with whom he has recorded two albums on ECM. He made his  own debut as leader on ECM  with the 2016 album River Silver.  Looking At Sounds is his second ECM album. It features what is being billed as a ‘revised’ quartet. This is a European  group, with Matthieu Michel from Fribourg in Switzerland on flugelhorn and Frenchman Philippe Garcia on drums and electronics – they were both in Benita’s previous group, Ethics. The relative newcomer is Jozef Dumoulin from Belgium on Fender Rhodes and electronics. Benita himself  is on double bass and laptop.

The compositions on the album, mostly composed by Benita, are very attractive, and bring together elements of both jazz and folk. They are developed by the quartet as a group activity rather than by individual solos. In this Michel’s flugelhorn is dominant, but Dumoulin adds very interesting textures on the Fender Rhodes. His approach is very different from the funky sounds we tend to associate with the instrument, and is more focussed on melodic and rhythmic lines underpinning the flugelhorn and integrating with the rhythmic support of the bass and drums.

The mood throughout the album is relaxed and refreshing, the standard of the interactions between the four players extremely high. My only criticism is that the mood and the dynamic have a tendency to remain a little too constant. There is a short improvised track, Cloud to Cloud, which starts well with some interesting gestures from Dumoulin, but it doesn’t really develop. On other tracks, for example Slick Team, Dumoulin makes a dramatic opening, but then reverts to supporting Michel’s flugelhorn.  The final track, Never Never Land, is a bass solo from Benita.  I would like to have heard rather more variety, and also more of a focus on Dumoulin as soloist. Nonetheless, I am sure that Looking At Sounds will give a lot of pleasure as an album that one can sit back and relax to.

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