River Silver

Michel Benita, Ethics

After two exemplary ECM discs in the company of Andy Sheppard, Michel Benita has an album with his own group.  The Ethics band is international, and the Algiers-born bassist leads a line-up comprised of a flugelhornist from Fribourg, Switzerland, a koto player from Tokyo, a guitarist from Drøbak, Norway, and a French drummer who once lived in Turkey as a member of the Istanbul Symphony.  The group’s music, correspondingly, flows – like the glistening river of the title – beyond borders.  Alongside his own compositions and a piece by Mieko Miyazaki, Benita includes a tune from Northumbrian UK piper Kathryn Tickell and one from Norwegian composer and organist Eyvind Alnæs (1872-1932).  A strongly lyrical tendency prevails, Mathieu Michel’s graceful flugelhorn foregrounded, with  koto, bass and drums interacting creatively at the band’s core.  Colours of folk and colours of jazz are blended in Michel Benita’s writing, multi-idiomatic in a very natural way . Eivind Aarset’s guitars and what Benita calls “organic electronics” gently envelop the music. The whole sound-picture is finely-realized in the responsive acoustics of the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano, where River Silver was recorded in April 2015, with Manfred Eicher producing.   The album is issued in time for a European tour in January with concerts in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.
Nach zwei beispielhaften ECM-Alben als Mitmusiker von Andy Sheppard präsentiert Michel Benita nun ein Album seiner eigenen Gruppe. Die Ethics-Band ist international besetzt: Der in Algerien geborene Bassist führt ein Line-Up an, dem ein Flügelhornist aus dem schweizerischen Fribourg, ein Koto-Spieler aus Tokio, ein Gitarrist aus dem norwegischen Drøbak und ein französischer Schlagzeuger, der einst als Mitglied des Sinfonieorchesters von Istanbul in der Türkei lebte, angehören. Entsprechend fließt auch die Musik über Grenzen hinweg wie der im Albumtitel erwähnte schimmernde Fluss. Zusätzlich zu seinen eigenen Kompositionen und einem Stück von Mieko Miyazaki hat Benita auch einen Song der northumbrischen Dudelsack-Spielerin Kathryn Tickell sowie eine des norwegischen Organisten und Komponisten Eyvind Alnæs (1872-1932) aufgenommen. Insgesamt herrscht eine stark lyrische Stimmung vor, wobei Mathieu Michels graziöses Flügelhornspiel im Vordergrund steht, während Koto, Bass und Schlagzeug als Kern der Band kreativ interagieren. Folk- und Jazz-Farben mischen sich in Michel Benitas multi-idiomatischem Kompositionsstil auf sehr natürliche Weise. Eivind Aarsets Gitarren und die, wie Benita sie nennt, „organische Elektronik“ hüllen die Musik sanft ein. Das gesamte Klangbild erhielt seinen Feinschliff in der besonderen Akustik des Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano, wo River Silver im April 2015 mit Manfred Eicher als Produzent aufgenommen wurde. Das Album erscheint rechtzeitig zu einer Europatournee im Januar, die Konzerte in Deutschland, Österreich, der Schweiz, Frankreich und Belgien einschließt.
Featured Artists Recorded

April 2015, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano

Original Release Date


  • 1Back From The Moon
    (Michel Benita)
  • 2River Silver
    (Michel Benita)
  • 3I See Altitudes
    (Michel Benita)
  • 4Off The Coast
    (Michel Benita)
  • 5Yeavering
    (Kathryn Tickell)
  • 6Toonari
    (Michel Benita)
  • 7Hacihi Gatsu
    (Mieko Miyazaki)
  • 8Lykken
    (Eyvind Alnaes)
  • 9Snowed In
    (Michel Benita)
Michel Benita’s Ethics band is an international ensemble, the Algiers-born, Paris-based bassist leading a line-up with a koto player from Tokyo, a flugelhornist from Fribourg, Switzerland, a French drummer, and a guitarist from Drøbak, Norway. The group’s music flows – like the glistening river of the title – beyond borders. A strongly lyrical tendency prevails, with Mathieu Michel’s graceful and focused flugelhorn foregrounded, and koto, bass and drums interacting creatively at the band’s core. Colours of folk and colours of jazz are blended in Michel Benita’s highly attractive writing, multi-idiomatic in a very natural way. Eivind Aarset’s guitars and what Benita calls “organic electronics” gently envelop the music. Ethics’ improvisational reach is broad, and the instrumental palette unique.
Bandleader Benita describes the group’s formation as a gamble: “I originally wanted to see if I could bring the koto into a more or less ‘traditional’ set-up with guitar, bass and drums, but I didn’t know what to expect. It was a small miracle that it worked right away and I knew that I really wanted to continue with this group. I’d seen Mieko Miyazaki on stage a few times – and was impressed by her strong, charismatic presence. She is as fluent in Western music as she is in Japanese traditional music or contemporary composition. Musically, she thinks both ways, eastern and western. This ‘double culture’ quality that she has is essential to the music of this band.” In Ethics, the koto is not deployed as ‘exotic’ colour but is fundamental to the band’s integrated sound, the quintet quietly making a case for international collaboration as the five musicians serve the needs of the compositions.
Benita favours long-term musical associations. Ethics has existed for five years already, with unchanged personnel and the players in the group have also collaborated in other contexts. Michel Benita and Eivind Aarset work regularly together in Andy Sheppard’s quartet – as on the critically-acclaimed album Surrounded By Sea – and the guitarist is also a member of a quintet led by Matthieu Michel. Matthieu has also worked with Michel Benita in bands large and small, while Benita and drummer Philippe Garcia have also often worked in tandem, and appear together on recordings of, for instance, trumpeter Erik Truffaz.
The band-leader’s own musical journey has been an all-embracing one. He started out as an acoustic guitarist playing folk music inspired by Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and many more, passing through the briefest of purist phases when committing to jazz: “There’s a moment when you first get into jazz as a young player and you think you have to refuse or exclude other styles. But with me there was no way that could last! I was always fascinated by what was happening in pop, in folk, in music of all the traditions.”
These traditions continue to find a resonance in his ensembles. On River Silver, alongside six of his own distinctive compositions, Benita includes “Yeavering”, a tune from Northumbrian UK piper Kathryn Tickell, which fits ideally into the programme, bass and flugelhorn teasing out its melody. This adaptation of a folk theme for the language of improvisers might be considered almost a partner piece to “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir”, the Gaelic traditional song which Benita and Aarset have been performing with Andy Sheppard lately: these players open up the music in new ways.
Mieko Miyazaki’s “Hacihi Gatsu” has been in the Ethics book for some years, performed as a duo for koto and bass, the rapport between the players is unmistakable.
“Lykken” written by Eyvind Alnӕs (1872-1932), arrived in the repertoire “by the purest chance” after Benita picked up a CD of Norwegian art songs at an airport shop. “I’d been looking for a ballad that was not an American jazz standard and came across this album of songs for classical voice and piano. This one song ‘Lykken’ was touching. The melody is very beautiful and I thought I could adapt it for our group.”
A propos beautiful melodies: Benita’s title track is a tone poem capturing the light and atmosphere of Paris. Michel wrote it in a friend’s apartment on the Île de la Cité in the Seine, “the sun reflecting off the river flowing past the window. It’s a very pictorial reference…” You can hear the boats go by, a subtle movement of waves and water captured in guitar and cymbal sounds, as the bass steadies and steers the group. The impression is vivid.
The acute sound-pictures of River Silver were realized in the responsive acoustics of the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano in April 2015, with Manfred Eicher producing. The album is Benita’s third ECM appearance, following two discs with Andy Sheppard: Trio Libero and the aforementioned Surrounded By Sea. All three albums have been Lugano recordings, the studio’s recital room ambience encouraging detailed interaction.