PLAY-STATION (Asphalt-Tango 0705)
The new album by Motion Trio is cause for excitement. I liked their first album and this one surpasses even that. These guys are the hottest accordion players on the planet, rivaling the great power trios of rock! They took the staid old instrument & created a whole new sound. We know accordions breathe but the Motion boys truly inspire to blow out the music of the spheres, and swing from rock to groove to trance effortlessly. Right from the get-go (after helicopters land on your speakers) they set up a tripartite riffing that is relentless. Each of them has a vamp but also gets to break out and solo while the other two hold it down. The accordion was invented in the early nineteenth century and held sway as a popular accompaniment (portable, loud) until the advent of recording. It only found a marginal place in jazz and was rarely admitted to the symphony. However its great range allows for a symphonic approach to the instrument rarely achieved but here manifest in the clever interplay of the three majestic booming boxes. There's so much variety in here, e.g. "Chinatown" with busy triplets juxtaposed over bustling rhythms is very cinematic. They even manage a credible disco number called "You dance." Well, let's be kind and call it "techno" which sounds a little more modern. "Game over" is a virtuoso piece which you can only listen to once or twice. It mimics the various Casio loops heard in arcade games like PacMan and Space Invaders. It's brilliantly done, but like the originals, exceedingly irritating! That aside, if you have any interest in the accordion I urge you to check out this latest offering from the unchallenged Polish masters.
PICTURES FROM THE STREET (Indigo Asphalt Tango ATR0504)
If you are ever near Stockton and Sutter Streets (a block off Union Square) in San Francisco, check out the accordion player who hangs out on the corner. I've heard him a few times while waiting for the light and I swear he's either a genius or a complete hoax. He must have found the instrument in a dumpster. He pulls it in and out and it wheezes, he twiddles a few keys. I thought I caught him trying to play "Jingle Bells" at Christmas but I could have done a better job and I've never touched an accordion. He looks like a junkie so maybe did know how to play it once and is out there trying to remember while rounding up enough scratch to score. Well, this is a rather pathetic tale but stands in complete contrast to three guys who have been playing on the streets of Krakow Poland for a few years (while jumping up and down to keep warm, I'll wager): The Motion Trio. There's nothing but three accordions yet you think you hear strings, samples, synthesizers, rainstorms and other celestial vibrations. These are no scavenged instruments however: the Polish Ministry of Culture heard the group and commissioned Pigini, the world's leading manufacturer of the instrument, to make one keyboard and two button instruments for the group, at a cost of 18,000 euro each! They use handmade reeds and were custom-fit to the player's hands. Janusz Wojtarowicz, the group's leader, has written an entire book for composers to understand the range of sounds available. These include accentuated vibrato, shaking and scraping of the bellows, percussion on the accordion, glissando, and unique articulation of the notes. The idea for the accordion trio came when Wojtarowicz was explaining to some students that three accordions alone could replicate an entire chamber orchestra. He proved the success of this idea when his group won the 2000 International Competition of Contemporary Chamber Music in Krakow, in addition to finishing first in the trio category. "Our idea is to take this instrument, which is only thought about for weddings or polka or tango, and to make it as serious as any other classical instrument," says Wojtarowicz. "We want to show the world that this is a versatile instrument that can play everything from contemporary classical music to folk or even avant garde music."
There's a lot of variety in the 11 selections included. A track called "Little story" is just that and you can imagine it working perfectly in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie (or the movie in your head). "Scotsman" sets up a perfect rendition of a heilan' pipe drone and lament. A tribute to their label, called "Asfalt Tango" evokes Astor Piazolla, but I suppose any tango on accordion would. This really is a new departure for accordion music and deserves attention.
WARSAW VILLAGE BAND
PEOPLE'S SPRING (World Village 468028)
Folks have told me how great the Warsaw Village Band is. It sounds like medieval liturgical music to me. Particularly the vocals which have a lot of churchly echo on them. (When you use the same reverb setting on your mikes for all the tracks it becomes monotonous.) The hurdy-gurdy and old style fiddles lend to the air of antiquity. Percussion is to the fore with lots of energetic drumming. As far as modernised folk goes it seems to be the bees knees of the genre. The best tracks are adapted from tunes learned from old timers and given a little zest. According to the liner notes the rediscovered 16th-century fiddle is plucked with the fingers so it has a strident quality like the deconstruction of the fiddle in Taraf de Haïdouks' set. The singing is called 'white voice' style, adapted from shepherds' screaming! There's the obligatory remixed tracks at the end. These are particularly mournful, with sitar and bits of backwardness reminiscent of George Harrison's Beatle-work. The final cut is generic disco and served to disconnect me from the tradition. But it is worth hearing, so check it out for yourself and let me know what you think of it. Maybe you'll convince me to give it another listen.