Gary Whitehouse / Greenman Review
Offbeat but accessible, one of the most purely original releases of the year.
by Gary Whitehouse: " French musician Naim Amor is a denizen of Tucson, Arizona's vibrant music scene. This is his second volume of Soundtracks music, the first he's released on Howe Gelb's OwOm label. It's a delightful and quirky instrumental recording that blends jazz, lounge and experimental rock in what Naim calls "avant-French pop."
It opens with the loping, swinging "When They Were Happy," its sunny melody carried in turn by vibes, melodica and guitars, with a sampled loop from Stereolab stuck into the mix. "Le Tropicana Club" opens with a samba tattoo on the conga drums, which is then overridden by a straight four-beat rhythm on the trap set, setting a schizo mood that's only highlighted by the use of theremin, which takes over the melody line from the guitar and melodica. The loopy quavers and squeals of the theremin and the staggered rhythm suggest a tropical paradise being invaded by the harsh, measured rhythms of the urban street.
"Breakfast at Datura" was a joint composition by several of the contributors to Naim's recording, including Calexico drummer John Convertino, who lends his stylish and creative drumming to this cut. A very French-sounding tune on the melodica suggests bal musette, while the looped bass and indistinct sounds of voices in the background further the impression of a live performance at a quiet sidewalk cafe. Ambient noises also enter into "Dawn," with birdsongs at the beginning and a scratchy old record of "Stardust" fading in and out; languidly-plucked guitar and tinkling vibes suggest an Indonesian gamelan on this one.
"Tap Room" features an electric jazz guitar swapping melody lead with a trumpet, breaking briefly into a sweeping Philly-soul arrangement with phat bass and chiming synthesizer. The only non-original track is John Coltrane's "Naima," a classy bit of cool jazz that is briefly ripped apart by Naim's distorted guitar riffs.
There are as many different sounds on Soundtracks as there are genres of movies, it seems. "Stuck" features big Spaghetti-western style electric guitars. "Jon Le Flambeur" has a spy-movie melody played on electric guitar, backed by rapping drums and congas, and contrapuntal melody lines played by trumpets on left and right channels. "Generique" has a slow, Valley of the Dolls-style intro, followed by a bluesy guitar-and-harmonica outro. And "Vire De L'Ortf" is a bizarre upbeat number with Norman Luboff-type midi-sampled vocals, and lots of melodica and theremin noodling. There are more moans, chirps and whistles from the theremin, plus a glockenspiel, on the lovely, minor-key "Ballad of Gabrielle," another track featuring Convertino's drumming.
The enhanced CD includes three home-made videos in the QuickTime format, to the tunes of "Le Tropicana Club," "Vire de L'Ortf" and "Tap Room."
Martin Denny fans should definitely check this one out, as should anyone looking for music from off the beaten track. Offbeat but accessible, Naim Amor's Soundtracks, Volume II is one of the most purely original releases of the year.
Joseph Kyle / Mundane Sounds
a synthesis of everything that's been cool for the past fifty years.
Man, this guy's hep. His music is cooooollll, so hey, why don't we go back to my love grotto, get into the groove of this record, and see what else we might get. Let's slip out of these black turtlenecks and into a dry mart....
Oh, sorry about that...See, I'm really getting into the vibe and the vibes of Naim Amor's Soundtracks, Volume II. This record is really a synthesis of everything that's been cool for the past fifty years. Amor is a talented instrumentalist who has collaborated with Calexico and has released many of his own solo records, though this is the first time I've heard his work outside of his Calexico collaboration, ABBC. It's no matter, though, because upon first listen, you'll realized you've heard Amor before.
Where have you heard him? Let's list them, shall we?
--When you hear "While They Were Happy," you're listening to cool jazz from the 1950s, a la Modern Jazz Quartet.
--When you hear "Naima," you're listening to a straighforward cover of John Coltrane's hit from the early 1960s.
--When you hear "Tap Room," you're listening to any number of movie and/or Love Boat soundtracks circa 1970s
--When you hear "The Flag" or "Dawn," you're listening to the same ideas that came from Jon Hassel or Harold Budd in the 1980s
--When you hear "Le Tropicana Club" or "Jon Le Falmbeur," you're listening to indie-rock jazz a la Tortoise, The Coctails or and/or Sea and Cake
Really, that's it. The rest of the album sounds like a mixture of all of the above, and it sounds really...good. Soundtracks, Volume II is a record that's simply cool. It could be John Barry. It could be Morricone. It could be Stereolab. It could be anyone who does anything good, and Amor's done something good here. The album promises to be the soundtracks for films never made, and it's certainly that; each of these songs has a really relaxing, pleasant and simple rhythm that could fill any number of scenes in any number of films. That he's asked his friends from the Tuscon area to join him only gives his already brilliant ideas even more brilliance--do you think Calexico is the only talent in town? Hardly.
That Soundtracks is Amor's second volume of mellow jazz-rock implies that there's more on the way, and I hope so, because this little, too-brief record is simply ear candy that deserves to be heard. Not too snobby, not too elitist, Soundtracks Volume II is music for the masses. Not that it's made for them, but the masses sure could use a relaxing musical balm such as this. Enjoy and ignore at your own peril.
Adrian Pannett / Delusions of Adequacy
uperb instrumental set from inspired Tucson scenester and Giant Sand compatriart
Having moved his musical activities to Tucson, Az. in 1997 to be with fellow French native and filmmaker Marianne Dissard, Naïm Amor has done the utmost to immerse himself in the city�s rich cultural repository. Inviting across, in turn, fellow Parisian multi-instrumentalist Thomas Belhom, Amor has covertly driven himself into making music the Tucson way, having collaborated with the Howe Gelb-Giant Sand-Calexico fraternity on a series of interrelated projects as well as relentlessly recording/touring as one half of the Amor Belhom Duo. Whilst some may maliciously have suggested that Amor, and indeed Belhom, are globetrotting plagiarists, all too eager to drain ideas from Tucson�s musical melting-pot, the twosome undoubtedly brought in just as much as they have borrowed. Although the Amor Belhom Duo may now have disbanded after two �official� albums, a handful of tour-only releases, and an acclaimed joint-album with Calexico�s Joey Burns and John Convertino (2000�s Tête à Tête, under the ABBC moniker), Amor has taken to a creatively prosperous solo career. Having begun his solo endeavours with a well-received instrumental mini-album in 2001 (Soundtracks Vol. I on Film Guerrero Records) and looking set to continue things on a new vocal-led album (produced by regular Giant Sand/PJ Harvey cohort John Parish) later this year, the first half of 2004 sees the low-key launch of Soundtracks Vol. II, on Howe Gelb�s OWOM label.
From just one spin through this superbly crafted collection, it�s abundantly clear how well Amor has woven his own global influences into Tucson�s musical tapestry. Within its 12 tightly constructed tracks, Soundtracks Vol. II provides an engorging smorgasbord of styles and ideas, all deliciously displayed with wide-screen ambition. Beginning with the wondrous �When They Were Happy,� we are transported into a parallel-universe where Tortoise play regularly with local musicians at downtown Paris jazz clubs instead of at Chicago�s Empty Bottle or Abbey Pub. By �Breakfast at Datura,� we�re moved over into moodier territory with doomy double-bass, woozy organs, and skittering drums recalling Calexico�s The Black Light or Travelall. Come the tempestuous swooning swing of �Tap Room,� Amor smuggles the listener into Issac Hayes-flavoured Stax soul land, albeit without quite so much of the smouldering sexual undertow that is.
Midway through, a sprightly yet soothing Charles Mingus-meets-Giant Sand style cover of John Coltrane�s curiously christened �Naïma� reminds of us Amor�s happily acknowledged sonic roots. By the time �Vivre De L�Ortf� slides into the speakers, we find ourselves in a late-night underground club where a vocal harmony troupe, accompanied by a theremin and an electric piano, delivers something strangely similar to the closing credits music to the original Star Trek TV series. As the lilting finale of �Generique� drifts into earshot, Amor has us imagining ourselves riding on horseback into the desert sunset with French cigarettes wafting in the breeze.
If the strength of music was solely measured on its ability to transport us to places we could never imagine or realistically hope to reach, then Soundtracks Vol. II is a mighty success. Whilst it�s true that Amor�s likeminded collaborators involved here - notably erstwhile Giant Sanders John Convertino (drums) and Noah Thomas (trumpet) - invariably lead Amor�s ideas to full fruition throughout proceedings, this record would not have found its true life-force and passionate persuasion without Amor�s amorphous musical capabilities. His versatility as a composer, arranger, producer, and multi-faceted player make the most of his no-doubt limited resources in a way that puts others with grander budgets and lesser visions to shame. Moreover, if no one else besides Howe Gelb has the guile to give Amor the necessary support needed to be a solo recording artiste, then others will no doubt put his services as an adroit studio masterdom to extremely good use. Hopefully, though, if justice prevails, this won�t be the last we�ll be hearing from the very talented Naïm Amor, because Soundtracks Vol. II is a seriously inspirational masterstroke that we�d all be fools to miss out on.