Pierre Favre, Drums and Dreams

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 01.07.13 in Reviews

Pierre Favre’s massive, definitive statement on drumming, Drums and Dreams, is a lot to absorb: An album consisting of 28 tracks of solo percussion doesn’t just demand a lot of the performer; the listener has got to be down for it, too. Luckily Favre, a drummer of both technique and imagination, has thought deeply about what to present. If the result is exhausting, it is exhausting in a Joycean Ulysses kind of way.

A massive, definitive statement on drumming

It’s possible to see Favre as a slightly more uni-metric, more measured version of Milford Graves: someone who is more concerned with creating a drum environment than in maintaining band time. And, in keeping with the “dream” theme of the album, the drums come at you from unusual places: They rush from the back of the speakers to the fore, they emerge off in the distance, they’re right in your ear. Although these are clearly drum-centric pieces, what matters most here is composition and form. Favre’s architectural sense is formidable. The pieces have clear, defined narratives, no matter how abstruse (and some of the pieces are, in fact, very difficult). The long “Dimitri (Le Clown)” ranks among the most fully developed drum solos ever recorded.

Favre is so loose-limbed in his execution that it takes a while to realize that he is repeating incredibly intricate phrases with impeccable precision. At one point, he starts a bell-and-drum motif that combines stick and brush work, and the brushes themselves produces a circular buzzing noise; the effect is so staggeringly complex (and beautiful) that it strains believability. “Where Is It?” could have come from a more virtuosic Sunny Murray. “Swiss Sunday” is more about silence and space than about sound, drawing the listener into concentrically fading cymbal and gong touches. Power and subtlety are given equal consideration in “The Blue Picture.”

But, in the end, it makes less sense to point to individual tracks on Drums and Dreams than it does to steer you to the album in its encyclopedic entirety. I’ve never heard anything remotely like it before, and doubt that there’s anything else in the “jazz” discography of drumming that approaches it in its ambitiousness. Anyone willing to set aside a couple of hours of uninterrupted listening time to absorb it whole will be richly rewarded.