Best known as the curator of the often copied "Buddha Bar" series, Paris DJ Claude Challe has an ear for chilled atmospherics. Much of the success of the "Buddha Bar" CDs was due to Challe's ability to find other artists' classy, Asian-inspired downtempo tracks and present them in a restrained, upper-crust fashion. (Essentially, he was a supper club DJ.) Likewise, "Near Eastern Lounge" finds Challe "presenting" the three Beirut DJs who comprise the R.E.G. Project -- Ralph (Khoury), Elie (Barbar) and Guy (Manoukian) -- and letting them do most of the work. Seeing how Beirut used to be the "Paris of the Middle East" (before we bombed the life out of their Muslim communities during the '80s), and how recently it's earnestly begun to reclaim that title, it shouldn't be all that surprising that DJs as evocatively skilled as R.E.G. are beginning to get noticed. And though "Near Eastern Lounge" plays to a lot of the Arabic expectations of the group's roots, it's much more of a solid exploration of pan-global dance music than bellydancing with a beat. There are brief forays into Latin structures, wisps of African rhythms and even some Asian touches. But mostly it's a solid, mid-tempo dance record, with thick house roots. And it's also the sound of a city resuscitating itself, and that's what's most encouraging.
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