French Twist

The Amor Belhom Duo are Parisians by birth, and Tucsonans by choice

More recently, he came close to a slugfest with a Tucson bar patron over a similar bit of confusion. Amor was working the door of the club, when a guy walked in and asked Amor to keep an eye on his bike. Realizing that he wouldn't be able to give the bike his full attention, and afraid it would be stolen, he called out to the guy, saying: "You better watch your bike."

Unfortunately, the bar patron thought Belhom was threatening him by saying, "You better watch your back." Things got testy before the mistake was cleared up.

Such flare-ups, however, have been minor compared to the liberating effect that Tucson has had on Amor and Belhom. With their musical comrades in Calexico and Giant Sand, they've found a creative community that shares their love for trippy sounds and cinematic mood music. In addition to their two discs as the Amor Belhom Duo (their 1998 debut, Wavelab, was named after the Calexico-owned studio where it was recorded), they also recorded a full-on collaborative album with Calexico last year, Tete a Tete, under the group moniker ABBC.

Naïm Amor: "We learned English in France, but it was totally different."
Marianne Dissard
Naïm Amor: "We learned English in France, but it was totally different."
Amor Belhom Duo: Converting the heartland, as they've already done with Tucson.
Marianne Dissard
Amor Belhom Duo: Converting the heartland, as they've already done with Tucson.

The acclaim for Tete a Teteset the stage for Chicago's Carrot Top Records to reissue both of the Amor Belhom Duo records last month. So now, with their first national tour, the duo seeks to convert the American heartland in the same way they've won the hearts of Tucsonans and Europeans.

If the result isn't quite jazz, in the strict sense of the term, it shares one of jazz's principal tenets: that art is created in the moment, when musicians interact and follow their impulses. Amor says he and Belhom, like Burns and Convertino, create music without any preconceived notions, letting the songs dictate their own shape.

"We've been influenced by everything from jazz to punk rock to country music, to French songs," he says. "We listen to so many different kinds of music, but we try to have a personal position on all the music we like, instead of having a variety approach.

"We never think about music in terms of, 'Oh, we're going to do a funky song,' or 'We're going to do a hard-core song.' Some of our punk songs came out of pop writing, and vice versa. If the song has to go more funky, or have a more electronic groove, we just go there naturally."

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