Naim Amor – Soundtracks Vol. II

Naim Amor
Soundtracks Vol. II

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.