When I was in fourth grade, my school music teacher asked whether any students played musical instruments. My friend John, sitting in front of me in class, raised his hand and announced that he played the accordion.
Our music teacher stared him down for a moment of silence. Then made a brief pronouncement before moving on: "The accordion," he announced, "is a dead instrument."
Teacher must not have heard much zydeco music. Fortunately for us, Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, Jr. has spent the better part of four decades keeping this tradition alive and vibrant. And though his record label has changed many times, and his music often incorporates many ingredients grown outside the great state of Louisiana, he remains one of the squeezebox masters, and a reminder of how much the accordion has to say to us now. On "The Wrong Side" he brings on board another journeyman musician of note, guitarist Sonny Landreth
, and the results are rootsy and real, a strutting danceable groove that belies the can't-let-go-of-the-dirty-past lyrics. Yes, the reports of the death of the accordion are exaggerated. And watch out Maytag . . . the washboard might be making a comeback too.
A series of duets between an accordionist and a cellist? Why would I want to listen to that, you might ask. For the sole reason that they are superbly executed, that's why! Galliano, of course, is a virtuoso on his instrument, and Blues sur Seine
makes clear that the lesser-known Capon is in the same class. Capon has played a lot of free jazz over the years, from the Baroque Jazz Trio to projects with musicians such as Joe McPhee and David S. Ware. For this CD, however, he and the equally versatile Galliano focused on a more mainstream playlist.
"Goodbye Miles," Capon's tribute to Miles Davis, tries to capture the flavor of late-'60s Miles, when his more conservative fan base began railing against his newfound fusion style. Yet the track better recalls the works of Jean-Luc Ponty, due to the persistent ostinato figure first sustained by Galliano and later taken up by Capon, and also because of the ethereal nature of the theme. Capon's uplifting bowed solo even sounds like Ponty in its phrasing and with inflections that sometimes veer towards country or bluegrass. Galliano's improv spirals gracefully from nimble single-note lines to grand chordal expressions, as always sounding uniquely like himself. At the end Galliano becomes contemplative, his floating phrases taking on an eerie quality before he drops out entirely and only Capon's pizzicato, contagious ostinato survives.
Accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano and highly proficient multi-instrumentalist Michel Portal have performed frequently together over the years, and the Blow Up
session (recorded before a live studio audience) is a prime example of the excellence of their collaborations. Portal, who plays clarinet, bass clarinet, bandoneon and the rare jazzophone on other pieces, picks up the soprano sax for "Viaggio." The title means "journey" in Italian, and that is indeed what it is. From the Eastern European gypsy sound of Galliano's swirling and dramatic intro, to the jabbing tango rhythm he plays behind Portal's luminous reading of the endearing theme, only to be succeeded by the introduction of a second Brazilian-tempoed melody, this track covers a lot of territory. Portal's solo is swift, intricate and impeccably executed, while Galliano takes a more concise route, focusing on expressive sound textures amidst a stunning display of technical facility. The fadeout ending is capped by Galliano's rhythmic hand-tapping along the side of his instrument. This is irresistible world music from a jazz perspective.
It's always dicey to dedicate a tune to Django Reinhardt: the music of the Gypsy genius has been so much imitated as to sometimes sound corny, while it remains totally his own when played by Django himself. By composing a tune that revives the times when Reinhardt played with accordionists – and not violinists – and by choosing a Gypsy guitar player as the main soloist, Galliano reduced the risk of failure. Bireli is faithful to Django's spirit while never trying to imitate him, and Galliano's accordion is as soulful as one might desire. As for the New York rhythm team, they simply swing their hearts out.
, indeed: Richard Galliano, the most internationally renowned French jazz accordionist, playing a tune by the most internationally renowned French songwriter, on an instrument often associated with traditional French popular and dance music, and with French sidemen at that. But we're not in a "back to the roots" trip. Except for a couple of bars where the accordion plays overdubbed lines, this is basically a trio performance, which is rather unusual for accordionists. After the theme is stated in horn-like single lines, the accordion launches into wild chorusing with thickly grooving rhythm support. Galliano clearly means to assert his instrument's suitability as a vehicle for jazz and improvisation, an assertion made all the more remarkable in the context of a pleasant popular waltz that could easily be handled more conventionally. If you're not convinced after this, you may never be.
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