Bidaia - Oihan
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Resistencia 2003 (

cd cover Instrumental and vocal mastery makes this debut recording by Basque quartet Bidaia not only infectiously, but irresistibly, joyous. The screeching duo of Caroline Phillips' zanfona, or hurdy-gurdy, and Mixel Ducau's alboka, a traditional Basque double-reed instrument featuring dual fingering tubes, adds a tonal edge similar to that of the bombarde and biniou found up the coast in Brittany. Both also contribute fine vocals, Phillips a sweet, intense alto, Ducau an expansive, celebratory tenor. Bidaia transcends even this high potential by organizing "Oihan" into a series of suites, punctuated by standalone tracks.

The first eleven minutes consists of a tight song cycle, elegantly parsed into four tracks, but best enjoyed as a continuous whole. "Oihan" starts with slow arpeggios on acoustic guitar and a haunting figure on low flute, picked up by Caroline Phillips' vocal, and joined in harmony by Mixel Ducau's tenor. A slow zanfona outro fades directly into "Nun Zira," swinging guitar strum, strong darbuka and caj´┐Żn percussion, and saxophone wail supporting Phillips' and Ducau's harmony vocals seemingly where they left off on "Oihan," but with enhanced drive. A brisk but measured 7/8 dance, "Laminen Dantza" seems at first a relief from the building suspense, but its zanfona lead, strong bass drum and tablas, jangling sympathetic strings, and melody with numerous unpredictable and dramatic turns ultimately ratchets up the drama until, in "Oihan (bis)," the slow, trancy vocal figure that started the whole cycle returns and reaches closure.

Another suite begins with "Dantzaren Hatsa." A slow flat-picked acoustic guitar introduces Phillips' lovely vocal in a soulful and imploring melody that, true to the careful design of the recording, leads directly into "Basusarri," an upbeat processional with military percussion, its elevating melody carried by zanfona and Ritxi Salaberria's bass, unable to resist following its flourishes, recedes to a bounce as guitar and sax play around with allusions to "Bolero." This resolves immediately into "Eskuz Esku," a quick, playful march on percussion, soon joined by a driving melody on zanfona and alboka. No keeping still to this! "Binanagobarri," one of the standalone tracks, begins with a stiff stuttering beat, Ducau's vocal at its joyous, cajoling best, zanfona and alboka break affording him opportunity to improvise creatively in this traditional rhyming game, Jabi Area's rollicking percussion kicking the production into overdrive.

Lyrics are in Euskari, with incomplete but (hopefully) illustrative English translations. My only reservation about Oihan is that I might not be able to get it off my player before the next Bidaia record is released. - Jim Foley

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