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Benoit Delbecq Unit: Phonetics

AAJ Staff By

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After two relatively stripped-down efforts, the duo Dice Thrown (Songlines, 2002) and solo Nu-Turn (Songlines, 2003), Parisian pianist Benoit Delbecq returns with a quintet for Phonetics, taking full advantage of the extended range of his group—stylistically, timbrally, and texturally. Delbecq's music draws from several diverse traditions, including the often counterintuitive constructs of modern classical music, the excitement and unpredictability of improvisation, and the polyrhythmic and contrapuntal complexity of Central African music.

All these big concepts have the potential of bogging down in academic abstraction, especially when combined, but Delbecq understands the pitfalls of synthesis and successfully navigates around them. He does this by endowing each piece with its own mood and character, finding fresh settings for each musician, and managing the sometimes precarious balance between ideas and momentum. The opening "Le Mème Jour" starts out briefly entangled, then resolves into a plaintive, gentle unison melody and eventually acquires steam and rhythmic energy, driven in large part by enthusiastic synergy between Congolese drummer Emile Biayenda and American bassist Mark Helias.

While most of Delbecq's compositions seem to fit together by careful assembly of shifting parts, they also melt into jam-like grooves on occasion. The highly percussive funk polyrhythms of "Yompa" serve as a platform for flitting piano phrases and snippets of pentatonic viola, returning to its oblique melody almost as an amnesiac reminder before splintering it apart and landing unexpectedly in unison.

This exceptionally well-recorded disc (released as an SACD hybrid) is perfectly suited to reveal timbral nuances and detail. Like pretty much everything on the Songlines label, you'll get a whole lot more out of the music if you listen carefully—this isn't background after-dinner music, that's for sure. But Phonetics is far more than the sum of its (already substantial) parts; it's a vibrant celebration of possibility and connectedness that reveals new things with each listen.

Visit Benoit Delbecq on the web.


Track Listing: Le M

Personnel: Benoit Delbecq: piano, sampler on

Title: Phonetics | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Songlines Recordings


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