Dazibao explore world music via Belgium
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Homerecords.be (www.homerecords.be)

The young accordion player and composer Sophie Cavez has emerged as a mainstay of the Belgian and French traditional music scenes, through her work with Urban Trad, Knoph Quartet, Camaxe, and the super group KV Express. She is also a founding member of Dazibao, a musically adventurous quartet that includes Jonathon De Neck on diatonic accordion, Jo Zanders on percussion and Karim Baggili on guitar and oud.

The group presents a compelling range of styles, from North African minor key pieces through Andalusian flamenco to French café music. In lesser hands, this eclecticism might seem like musical tourism, but instead, Dazibao's intelligence and skill create a taut musical vision.

Cavez and De Neck composed all of the pieces on the album, and it is interesting to hear the differences in their approaches. Cavez' compositions have a decidedly North African flavor, a marked departure from the Western and Northern European sensibility of her previous work. For example, the Berber-influenced "Suzanette" features a circular structure and swooping minor scales, artfully performed by Baggili and Zanders. The piece then morphs into an abstract middle section with interesting use of the accordion's bass keys, before returning to the main theme. Likewise, the exhilarating lead track "L'affaire du Pigeon" rushes out the gate with a dizzyingly fast, ornamental minor key riff, followed by a somber middle section notable for Karim Baggili's dusky oud playing, before roaring back to life with a return of the original melody. Baggili's also provides a fascinating guitar work-out on "Eau-à-tiré," where his staccato fills produce a palpable tension.

De Neck's compositions, while also imbued with an Andalusian-North African sensibility, are closer in theme to French musette or, in the case of "Avant-après," a lovely syncopated bossa-nova rhythm. A number of tracks include vocalese, sometimes burrowed deep within the mix, which adds a sense of mystery to the proceedings. Special mention should also be made for Jo Zanders' supple hand-percussion work, which provides a range of subtle textures and pulsating rhythms throughout the proceedings.

Despite their different styles, the ensemble shares a searching quality in their playing, which gives their musical explorations a somewhat abstract quality akin to the solo recordings of Thelonious Monk. The payoff for the listener, though, is that we get to share with the musicians the exhilaration of discovery. Although the CD loses a little bit of steam in the last third, Alma provides an impressive showcase for Dazibao's focused playing and restless musical explorations. - Michael Duke

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