Bayon, an East German ensemble whose first three albums from the late-70s through the mid-80s appeared on the legendary Amiga label, fused the indigenous sounds of Southeast Asian and South American folk with, for lack of a better term, classical rock. Acoustic and electric guitar and bass, Hammond organ, and drums meet cello, flute, violin, and harpsichord; the resulting amalgamations disclose charmingly unique ethno-songs and dynamic instrumentals.
First Recordings 1971-1973 sheds light on Bayon’s earliest sessions from GDR Radio Studios. Co-founder and guitarist-organist-vocalist Christoph Theussner struck an alliance with fellow bass-playing countryman Roland Wölfel, and three musicians of Cuban, Kampuchean, and Vietnamese parentage: flautist-percussionist Luis Bayard, violinist-percussionist Sam Ay Neou, and cellist-percussionist Sonny Thet (these names must be gleaned from the writing credits following each track for the liner notes are unfairly sparse). Singing chores pass between Theussner’s accent-thick and rather bland vox, and Neou, whose voice is much easier on the ear.
Of the six tracks, the first four are the folksiest and showcase splendid guitar and flute work. “Stand In The Middle Of The Rain” and “The Night,” both sung by Theussner, alternate between hot and cold—the few vocal verses are gentle if somber, while the instrumental sections generate much more electricity. The Neou-led songs, “The Lark” and “Oh Mango Tree,” are authentic slices of Asiatic folk, the latter an arrangement of a traditional ditty. The final two tracks are what will appeal to enthusiasts of obscure European progressive music. A prime cut, “Synthetic Waltz” is the album’s lone live track, seven minutes-plus of exquisite ethno-prog commenced by Theussner’s superb acoustic guitar exposition and Bayard’s flute. A stunning crescendo is expounded upon by the entrance of the rhythm section and Neou’s violin.
The utter beauty of the twelve-minute “Bayon Suite,” recorded in 1971, can really only be felt; text is not going to illuminate how varied and vigorous this is without a step-by-step schematique. The three parts of “Bayon Suite”— On The Bridge I and On The Bridge II, separated by Intermezzo—traverse the conventions of gothic chamber music, Afro-Latin’s polyrhythms, Asian folk’s calming beauty, and Krautrock’s paroxysms. The close of “Bayon Suite” is like a violent wave crashing ashore, which ultimately settles and pulls back, conforming to the flat, smooth texture of the sand.
The music on this disc is separated 4/2 as though it were originally a vinyl release, but I doubt that was ever the case. It would’ve been much better if this disc was double-length, or at least padded out with more extras from further down Bayon’s career. One can only just get started with those last two tracks—at only thirty-eight minutes in length, there are but two hardline notions to grasp: that this album is far too short and its running time should have been extended, and that this band was truly progressive and ahead of their time.
[NOTE: At this time, Bayon’s official site is still forthcoming, but in the meantime, view band pix and their discography at: http://www.ostbeat.de/Bayon.htm]