In Praise of AMTA Cassettes

At a rehearsal last week over at a friend’s place I spotted a cassette sitting on top of his formidable array of stereo equipment. It had a familiar look. The red italic lettering. The black bar at top and bottom. The name of the performers in white, just above the smallest text, the title, in quotation marks. There’s the circular stamp: MUSIQUE EN AUVERGNE. And the stylized AMTA logo.

This particular cassette was by La Jimbr’tée, and called Virage. The cover shows five men and one woman, an array of vielle, accordéon, and pipes.

Seeing the cassette there, I was cast into a fugue state. I was thrilled. These were the cassettes that changed everything.

I believe I have mentioned before, the role that AMTA cassettes have played in my musical life. The AMTA — Agences des Musiques des Territoires d’Auvergne — is an especially effective regional cultural organization that somehow managed to export its music to Amherst, Massachusetts, which is where the Button Box was located at the time.

In 1998, I traveled to the Button Box to pick up my first box — a red Hohner Corso (G/C) tuned very wet — and saw a bunch of these black/red/AMTA cassettes on the shelf. I picked up Frédéric Paris’s, Carnet de Bal, and Jacque Lavergne’s, Cadences d’Auvergne. After getting home, I called the store back and asked them to send  a few others, including the hardcore Bal Auvergnat duo of Guy Letur and Pierre Ladonne on chromatic button accordéon and cabrette.

All of my copies of these cassettes have either broken, melted, or disintegrated into iron dust. (All the more amazing that my friend’s were in great shape). My cassettes had lived in my car, mostly, which is never ideal for a music delivery medium. A good number of them I’ve managed to find in digital form. But that doesn’t change the magic of that discovery at the Button Box. The sheer abundance of discovery. The amount of this music suddenly to hand, this joyous, amazing music.

I’d love to hear how you discovered this music. What early finds inspired you? Feel free to add your story to the comments.

In the meantime, thank you AMTA!

An Interview with Frédéric Paris

en Français

As I have written, Frédéric Paris has been at the center of my accordion world for over a decade. After the piece I wrote about him in March, he graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Thanks to Alex MacGregor and Sylvain Piron for help in translating. Thanks, especially, to Frédéric Paris.
____________________

Q: How did you begin your involvement in music?

  Carnet de Bal… Frédéric and Castagnari

A: I was 11 when I started playing the hurdy-gurdy in 1968. I tried an instrument that was at my grandmother’s and I liked it. I continued alone, and then I took a few courses where I met other kids like me, playing hurdy-gurdy.

Q: How did the Chavannée get started? 

A: Chavannée was founded in 1969 by my father who was the village teacher. He introduced his students and other young people from surrounding villages to the arts and popular traditions of Bourbonnais, our region in the center of France. Soon, we met the older musicians and singers of the region and we have since been researching the minstrels, instruments, repertoires, dances …

Q: Someone told me, “There is no such thing as French Traditional Music. There is Bourbonaisse music, Alsatian music, Limousin, etc…” It’s difficult from a distance to understand these regional differences. Do you think there is such a category as “Traditional French Music?” Do you think it is possible for me to understand “French Traditional Music” without a thorough knowledge of regional differences?

A: Yes, there are regional differences, but traditional French music does exist — through its atmosphere, melodic themes, its songs, the dance rhythms … Local or regional particularities exist, but they should not hide a real unity of the French-speaking area.

Fréderic Paris’s other great accordion recording:
Rue de l’oiseau

Q: Some of the music you play is very traditional (Carnet de Bal) and some is “traditional music of the future” (De L’eau Et Des Amandes) – how are they connected to you?

A: These records correspond to very different periods of my life. Carnet de Bal is my first solo production from 1984, I was 27! I wanted to share a little known repertoire, suitable for the diatonic accordion and playable by most musicians. De L’eau Et Des Amandes is much later (1995). Most arrangements are by Gilles Chabenat, and I took advantage of the flexibility and the volubility of the clarinet.

Q: You play many musical instruments. How did you start playing the accordion? 

A: I started the accordion at the time of revival of this instrument [in the 1970s] , under the influence of musicians such as Marc Perrone, Jean Blanchard … I met with traditional musicians in central France. I also adapted the repertoires from other instruments (clarinet, fiddle, cornet …)

Q: What role do you think the accordion has in traditional French music? In relation to hurdy-gurdy and cornemuse?

A: The accordion brings harmony, it can support or lead. Its attack brings energy to an instrumental group. This is a very flexible instrument.

Q: I noticed that you play a lot of accordions by Castagnari, and I’ve only ever seen you play the accordion in two rows. Can you tell me why Castagnari accordions? Why not three-row or two and a half? In other words: Why do you play the accordions you play?

A: I tried several kinds of accordions: 1 row, 2 rows 3 rows. The model I prefer is the “2-row 8 bass.” I love its intuitive, energetic light. Limitations make it necessary to seek solutions to diversify one’s playing. Castagnari is very reliable. They are instruments of good quality and I work with a very professional dealer-tuner (Jean-Pierre Leray in Rennes). What more? I use 3 diatos: one in sol-do (GC), one in a do-fa (CF) and one in re-sol (DG), all in “8-bass, 2-rows.” With these three accordions, I have almost all the tones I need.

Q: In the U.S., Carnet de Bal is an icon for accordion. I bought a cassette of Carnet de Bal in 1999 and I played it until it dissolved. This is a beautiful, clear statement of what the accordion can be. Can you talk about this? Is there a chance to do a reissue on CD?

La Chavanée, including, Frédéric and far too many hurdy gurdies.
I’m kidding! I’m kidding!

A: Some pieces recorded on Carnet de Bal have become “standards” for accordion players and I am very happy about that. At that time – 1984 – I adapted the repertoire of clarinet, cornet, hurdy-gurdy and unreleased songs collected in Bourbonnais (in the department of Allier). I added an accompaniment of clarinet (which I had played for a short time) a little voice and the vielle of Patrick Bouffard. The CD reissue has been requested for a long time. I should take care of this seriously …

Q: Here is a very specific question: What are you doing with your left hand in bourrées, 2 and 3 beat? It is a very important issue for accordionists in the United States! How should you play bass and chords for bourrées?

A: While playing 2-beat bourrées, I prefer to play long notes in the left hand, alternating chords (no third) and basses, like drones. I am inspired by the harmonium, which I have played since adolescence. Otherwise, bourrées sound like polkas and it’s a shame. I find it important to preserve the uniqueness of the 2-beat bourrée. The melodies have “horizontal” aspects. They must be left to unfold like songs, a capella, without chopping the left hand. Contrariwise, the playing in the right hand is at the same time bound and fast with ornaments, like the hurdy-gurdy. For 3-beat bourrées, the left hand accompanies with more traditional “bass – chord – chord,” but occasionally, I break this pattern with odd rhythmic combinations. It’s a bit complicated to explain, it would be easier with an accordion! I also sometimes get the effect of “drone” as in the 2-beat bourrée.

Q: Each disc of Chavanée is very different, how do you decide what will be done for each?

A: For many years, I choose themes for the records: the river, dance, Christmas … It gives me different ideas for arrangements. I let myself be carried away by the lyrics (the traditional repertoire consists largely of vocal music). Each song tells a story. Otherwise, I work with musicians I’ve known for a long time. This is important.

Q: Finally, is there a chance that you and Chavanée visit America in the future?

A: Why not? We are open to any suggestions!

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Une entrevue avec Frédéric Paris

in English

Comme je l’ai écritFrédéric Paris a été au centre de ma « planète accordéon » depuis plus d’une décennie. Monsieur Paris a fort gentiment accepté de répondre à quelques questions. Merci à Alex MacGregor et Sylvain Piron  pour l’aide à la traduction. Et merci, surtout à Frédéric Paris.
____________________

Carnet de Bal: Frédéric et Castagnari

Q: Monsieur Paris, comment avez-vous commencé la musique?

A: J’avais 11 ans quand j’ai commencé à jouer de la vielle-à-roue, en 1968. J’ai essayé un instrument qui était chez ma grand-mère et ça m’a plu. J’ai continué seul, puis j’ai suivi quelques stages où j’ai rencontré d’autres jeunes vielleux comme moi.

Q: Comment La Chavanée a-t-elle commencé? 

A: La Chavannée a été créée en 1969 par mon père qui était l’instituteur du village. Il a initié ses élèves et d’autres jeunes des villages alentour aux arts et traditions populaires du Bourbonnais, notre région située au centre de la France. Très vite, nous avons rencontré les “anciens” du pays et nous avons fait des recherches sur les ménétriers, les instruments, les répertoires, les danses…

Q: Récemment, j’ai écrit un article sur la «Musique Traditionelle Française» mais quelqu’un m’a dit, «Il n’y a pas vraiment de musique traditionelle française. Il y a musique bourbonnaise, la musique alsacienne, la musique du Limousin, etc… » Un américain comme moi a du mal à comprendre ces différences régionales. Pensez-vous qu’on peut parler de «Musique Traditionelle Française»? Pensez-vous qu’il est possible pour moi de comprendre «Musique Traditionelle Française» sans avoir une connaissance approfondie des différences régionales? 

A: I Il existe des différences régionales, mais la musique traditionnelle française existe bel et bien à travers ses climats mélodiques, les thèmes de ses chansons, les rythmes de danses… Les particularismes locaux ou régionaux existent, mais ils ne doivent pas cacher une réelle unité du domaine francophone.

Q: Certains airs de votre répertoire sont très traditionnels (Carnet de Bal) tandis que d’autres peuvent être qualifiés de «musique traditionnelle du futur» (De L’eau Et Des Amandes) – Qu’est-ce qui les relie selon vous?

A: Ces enregistrements correspondent à des périodes très différentes de ma vie. Carnet de Bal est ma première production en solo, c’était en 1984, j’avais 27 ans ! J’ai voulu faire connaître un répertoire méconnu, adapté pour l’accordéon diatonique et jouable par la plupart des musiciens. De L’eau Et Des Amandes est beaucoup plus tardif (1995). La plupart des arrangements sont de Gilles Chabenat et j’ai mis à profit la souplesse et la volubilité de la clarinette dont je joue depuis assez longtemps.

Q: Vous jouez beaucoup d’instruments différents. Comment avez-vous commencé à jouer de l’accordéon?

A: J’ai commencé l’accordéon à l’époque du renouveau de cet instrument, sous l’influence de musiciens comme Marc Perrone, Jean Blanchard… J’ai aussi rencontré des musiciens traditionnels dans le centre de la France. J’ai aussi adapté des répertoires venant d’autres instruments (clarinette, vielle, cornet à pistons …)

Q: Quelle place tient l’accordéon dans la musique traditionnelle française, en comparaison de la vielle à roue et de la cornemuse? 


A: L’accordéon apporte l’harmonie, il peut accompagner ou “mener”. Ses attaques donnent de la nervosité au sein d’une formation musicale. C’est un instrument très souple.

Q: J’ai remarqué que vous jouez beaucoup sur les accordéons Castagnari, en particuluer des accordéons à deux rangées. Pouvez-vous me dire pourquoi Castagnari et pourquoi pas les accordéons à trois rangées ou à deux rangées et demie? En d’autres termes: Comment choisissez-vous vos accordéons?

Musique en Bourbonnais.
Au centre Frédéric Paris.

A: J’ai essayé plusieurs sortes d’accordéons : 1 rang, 2 rangs, 3 rangs. Le modèle que je préfère, c’est le “2 rangs 8 basses”. J’aime son côté intuitif, nerveux, léger. Ses limites obligent à chercher des solutions pour diversifier son jeu. La marque Castagnari est très fiable, ce sont des instruments de bonne qualité et je travaille avec un revendeur-accordeur très professionnel (Jean-Pierre Leray à Rennes). Que demander de plus ? J’utilise 3 diatos: un en sol-do (G-C), un en do-fa (C-F) et un autre en ré-sol (D-G), tous en “2 rangs 8 basses”. Avec ces trois accordéons, j’ai à peu près toutes les tonalités dont j’ai besoin.

Q: Aux Etats-Unis, Carnet de Bal est un ouvrage de référence pour les accordéonistes. J’ai acheté une cassette de Carnet de Bal en 1999 et je l’ai passée jusqu’à ne plus pouvoir la lire. C’est une belle et claire démonstration de ce que l’accordéon peut être. Pouvez-vous nous parler de ce disque? Y at-il une chance de voir un jour une réédition sur CD? 

A: Certains airs enregistrés sur Carnet de Bal sont devenus des “standards” pour les joueurs d’accordéon diatonique et j’en suis très heureux. A l’époque – 1984 – j’ai adapté du répertoire pour clarinette, cornet à pistons, vielle-à-roue et des chansons inédites recueillies en Bourbonnais (département de l’Allier). J’ai ajouté un accompagnement de clarinette dont je jouais depuis peu de temps, un peu de voix et la vielle de Patrick Bouffard. La réédition sur CD est demandée depuis longtemps, il faudrait que je m’en occupe sérieusement…

Q: Voici une question très précise: Que faites-vous avec votre main gauche sur les bourrées, 2 temps et 3 temps? C’est une question très importante pour nous accordéonistes aux États-Unis! Comment faut-il jouer les basses et les accords pour les bourrées?

A: Pour les bourrées à 2 temps, je préfère jouer des notes longues à la main gauche, en alternant les accords (sans tierces) et les basses, un peu comme des bourdons. Je m’inspire de l’harmonium dont je joue depuis l’adolescence. Sinon, les bourrées ressemblent à des polkas et c’est dommage. Je trouve important de préserver la spécificité des bourrées à 2 temps, les mélodies ont un aspect “horizontal”, il faut les laisser se déployer comme des chansons a capella, sans les hacher à la main gauche. Par contre, le jeu à la main droite est à la fois lié et avec des ornements très rapides, comme sur la vielle-à-roue. Pour les bourrées à 3 temps, la main gauche accompagne de façon plus classique “basse – accord – accord”, mais de temps en temps, je brise cette régularité par des combinaisons rythmiques faussement impaires. C’est un peu compliqué à expliquer, ce serait plus facile avec un accordéon ! J’utilise aussi parfois l’effet “bourdon” comme dans les bourrées à 2 temps.


Q: Chaque disque de La Chavanée est très différente, comment décidez-vous ce qui sera fait pour chaque disque?

A: Depuis de nombreuses années, je choisis des thèmes pour les enregistrements : la rivière, la danse, Noël… Cela me donne des idées différentes pour les arrangements. Je me laisse porter par les textes des chansons (le répertoire traditionnel est composé en grande partie de musique vocale). Chaque chant raconte une histoire dont je m’imprègne. Pour le reste, je travaille avec des musiciens que je connais depuis longtemps. C’est important.

Q: Enfin, y at-il une chance que vous et La Chavanée viennent visiter l’Amérique dans le futur?

A: Pourquoi pas? Nous sommes ouverts à toute proposition!

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Tribute: Jac Lavergne

Jac Lavergne

Jac Lavergne plays accordion, oud, violin, flutes, and percussion with Compagnie Léon Larchet, a performance unit that melds traditional French and North African music with world rhythms. It’s a very driving sort of music — called tradimodern — and Lavergne and company perform it in a spectacular, theatrical way, building layer upon layer of well arranged energy. That’s today.

Twelve years ago, for me, Jacques Lavergne was a name on a cassette at the Button Box, bought in the same stack as Frédéric Paris’ Carnet de Bal. Driving home from Amherst, a beginning accordionist, I popped in Lavergne’s Cadences d’Auvergne and was blown away.

Jacques Lavernge, L’Aurriacoise

As this waltz demonstrates, Cadences d’Auvergne — put out by the Agencies des Musique des Territoires d’Auvergne (AMTA) — is a solo accordion recording that presents a very traditional Auvergne repertoire played in a very unique way. Striking melodic playing is backed up not by the usual bass-chord-chord but by right-hand chordings and double-stops. Also, dig the foot tapping in the background. Such precision amid the flourish! So intriguing, I spent that trip with my jaw dropped wondering, “How does he do that?”

Jacques Lavergne, Marche de Noce de Valmier-Polka du Lot

It’s wonderful, but it’s not entirely mysterious. In that time of my inexperience, it took me a while to realize that Lavergne was playing a three-row accordion in a very characteristic three-row way, with much legato row-crossing and cross chords. In other words, he really was doing things on his box that I could not do on a two-row box. Fair enough! But the philosophy behind his playing, creating settings that were harmonically and rhythmically intricate really did foreshadow his music with Compagnie Léon Larchet, with its focus on drama and story. Also, there’s no denying his technical facility and artistry. Jac (Jacques) Lavergne inspired me greatly. He is a master. Under appreciated, I think. Every accordionist should hear him.

Lavergne’s recent output is available through the Compagnie Léon Larchet web site, either as CDs or downloads. Cadences d’Auvergne is criminally out of print, though recordings of it can be gotten at Mitch Gordon Music.

Frédéric Paris and La Chavannée

(Thanks to my colleagues at Melodeon.net — Chris Ryall, Guy, and Quebecois et many cetera — for help on this. Any corrections would be welcome.)
Accordionist (and multi-instrumentalist) Frédéric Paris and La Chavannée, the organization he’s associated with, have been a huge influence on me since I first discovered their cassette tapes at the Button Box around 1998 (when I bought my first accordion, the Hohner Corso). Forgive me, please, if I seem to lapse into hagiography. This is literally life changing stuff for me. I would not be an accordionist without them.  An incalculably positive impact on my quality of life.

The first Paris recording I heard was Carnet de Bal, put out by the Agence des Musiques des Territoires d’Auvergne, or AMTA. It was a cassette tape featuring traditional tunes and Paris originals that, essentially, taught you how it was done. Simple arrangements that were fluid, effortless, precise, clear and … I don’t know … happy-making! This tape absolutely captured my imagination, and in the Dark Age of Irony that was the late 1990s, Carnet de Bal was a dose of joyful, earnest ease. One of the first tunes I ever learned on accordion was “La Marianne,” the opening waltz on this tape. (This waltz was also the “tune of the month” on Melodeon.net in January.)


On my next trip to the Button Box, I picked up more AMTA cassettes (every one of which has since expired) and a tune book, Cahier de Repertoire, which had dots and accordion tab for every piece in Carnet and Paris’ other accordion focused CD, Rue de L’oiseau, which I would acquire some months later. Both of these recordings are, now, quite difficult to find, though Rue can be found here.
There is a some Frédéric Paris more easily available (it’s just as easy to order from Amazon France as any other). He and his wife, Eveline, did two discs of French children’s music, Belle Pomme D’or and Petite Alouette (also on iTunes and emusic)These are charming and not at all the sort of processed children’s music you hear in the United States. He did a duet with hurdy gurdy-ist Gilles Chabenat called De L’eau Et Des Amandes (subtitled, “Traditional French Music Today”), comprised of originals that match the best aspects of tradFrance with modern harmonies and rhythms. Paris plays solely clarinet on this. For an accordionist, that might seem disappointing, but it’s just that good. This disc is out of print, but you can stream it here. A lot of its material shows up on Live en Flanders, which has Paris and Chabenat joined by Flemish musicians Wim Claeys (accordion) and Maartin Decombel (cittern). Most readily available is Paris’ work with La Chavannée, available at iTunes and Amazon download.
La Chavannée (founded, I believe, by Fred’s father Jacques Paris, aka Jackie), a traditional music group and cultural organization focusing on culture, music, and dance of the Bourbon region. They maintain a 19th century farm, host events, and recently built and launched a boat based on 19th century plans … and they play unbelievable music. To see them on stage, a core of musicians with any number of friends, multiple accordions, hurdy gurdies, bag pipes, clarinets, trumpets … below is a video of a recent concert. The man himself is on accordion. As far as I know, this is the only video of Paris playing accordion on the ‘net. I’d love to be wrong about that.





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