Bai Hat

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Bai Hat is a superb collaboration between a French avant-rock/jazz collective and a trio of Vietnamese traditional musicians. Guitarists Olivier Benoit (electric) and Sébastien Beaumont (acoustic) wrote a set of pieces while in Hué (Vietnam), especially for this project commissioned by the 2006 Hué International Festival. A year later, the project moved to France for a studio session that yielded this record. The result speaks legions about the songwriting skills of Benoit and Beaumont, the musicianship of everyone involved, and the universal power of music as a communication tool. It's also one mighty fine slab of original rock-leaning avant-jazz. There's a touch of Rock in Opposition, a pinch of free improvisation, and just a grain of krautrock. However, if these genres can give you an idea of the level of experimentation involved, none actually describe the music, which is surprisingly light, accessible, exotic, and enjoyable. The Vietnamese component (Duong Thi Lan Huong on dan tranh, and lead vocals on one track; Nguyen Khac Dinh Du on dan bau; Duong Tien Dung on dan nguyet) is perfectly integrated to Circum's sound, maybe best examplified by "Bay," where Julien Favreuille's tenor sax and the dan bau come together marvelously for an angular yet sweet melody that bores a hole through your skull and down to the reptilian brain. "Carambole" (the only song of the set), "Les Parfums de Huong," and "Petite Vague" (the latter has a Jean Derome-like quality to it) are all highlights, but there is hardly a subpar track on this set. A very strong album, and one of Olivier Benoit's more accessible releases. A must.

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