Not to say Didier Laloy, Wim Claeys, Bruno LeTron, and Frédéric Malempré are Belgian — maybe they are, maybe they aren’t — but this musical movement, with the Handry 18 Castagnaries surrounding you, coming right at you … (the grillwork! the grillwork!) … feels Belgian. En Flanders, as Frédéric Paris might say. So, this is Tref! Enjoy!
Intersection (Compagnie Balagan) is an excellent example of the genre that has been co-created by Le Tron, Heim, Didier Laloy, Wim Claeys, and their compatriots in Accordion Samurai. Two accordéons accompanying each other. Interweaving melodies and counter melodies. Extended harmonies. Virtuosic performance. Very rhythmic with much syncopation. A fascination for odd meters, sevens and fives. It sounds like it’s French, at times rural, at times Parisian … with some Hot Jazz happening. Yes, that’s swing. It sounds like it’s Balkan, with those wonderful meters and scales and melodies. For some reason it’s associated strongly with Belgium. An intersection? A crossroads? Pan-European? This isn’t “more-eclectic-than-thou” post-modernism. Out of this many, come one voice from two men. Heim and Le Tron are very good at this.
Listen to two excerpts performed below.
Part One is Here.
Andy Cutting does NOT have an accordéon collection. Listening to Andy Cutting, one is entranced, of course, by his playing, but one also marvels — perhaps with a modicum of jealousy — at the sound of his instruments. I asked Cutting about his instruments. Is he a gear hound? Does he have a collection?
I wouldn’t say I was a gear hound at all. I’m primarily driven by playing music on a machine and have the instruments I feel I can best do that. I don’t really have a collection, as such. Although my wife would say otherwise! For those who are interested, the boxes I have are:
- Hohner Pokerwork D/G (my first box which I still play at home)
- Hohner one row four stop G
- Hohner Club 3 D/G
- One of those Chinese one rows
- A small two row CBA thing that John Tams got in the Crimea when he was filming Sharp,
- Castagnari Mignon Gish,
- Two Castagnari Max, one in D and one in A
- Castagnari Lilly D/G (bought by mistake!)
- Castagnari Handry 18 G/C
- Oakwood (I’ve no idea what model. It was made for me), two row 21 button, 8 bass with stop for the thirds, G/C Bandoneon (octave) tuned,
- Two Castagnari Mory C/F and, finally,
- Castagnari Mory D/G (my most used and favorite box)
|With Chris Wood|
|Neil Postman: Not an Accordionist|
Over on the Music and Melodeons blog, Owen is crafting a series of posts on the perennial query, “What is Folk Music?” At Melodeon Minutes, home of friend Andy from Vermont, the new Castagnari on-line catalogue is being gone over with the loving eye of a critical friend. Meanwhile, another friend’s blog, God and the Machine, has a piece on the late Neil Postman, not an accordion player, but a hero of mine.
Postman, in his books Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly, argued that technologies have ideologies. In other words, a new technology encourages some possibilities (values) and discourages others (devalues). The automobile, for example, values mobility and individualism, while devaluing stasis and communitarianism — to paint with criminally bold strokes.
It struck me that this applies to accordions, as well.
Discussing the Castagnari family of boxes over on melodeon.net, one member recommended the evolving 18-bass system, in general, as “amazingly liberating,” and pointed to its prevalence in the current wave of tradFrench players who rarely “play it straight.” And he’s right, of course. A three-row, 18-bass instrument can play in any key, and can produce the extended harmonies required for “jazzing up” the old tunes. It allows for an enormous amount of freedom.
|Bruno LeTron, 3-rows, 18-basses,
and the Truth
Postman would say that the existence of such technology does more than allow for the possibility of, say, extended harmonies on the accordion. Rather, the existence of the technology is an ideological argument for such extended play. We know this, he would say, because of the value judgements we make. Diatonic accordion playing that moves through a variety of keys or introduces chromaticism is seen as more virtuosic. It tends to be more valued. Players who can perform in such a way — players of the Mustradem collective, for example — are the stars of the genre and shape what defines “good” tradFrench playing.
(Before getting to the next paragraph, I want to make it absolutely clear that I love the music of Bruno LeTron, Didier Laloy, Norbert Pignol, Stéphane Milleret, et al. I am merely making an observation about how available technology impacts values. I understand that I am over-egging the esoteric pudding. It’s a good time for me. Are we clear?)
|The Handry 18: Maybe this is
the last accordion I will
When I bought my Castagnari Nik (the last accordion I’ll ever buy?) I made the conscious decision to eschew the expansive ideology, opting instead for the two-row, eight bass ideology that does play the old tunes relatively straight. Perhaps it’s a recognition of my own limitations, but an over-abundance of choice is, to me, the definition of chaos. Is this luddite-ism? Is it cranky-old-fart-ism? Is it a deep, abiding, jealousy? Or is it just me making a choice about what boundaries I’ll choose for my music-making life. Ideologies are boundaries, after all. There’s still so much to learn from Jean Blanchard! The technology I’ve chosen has an ideology that allows me to focus on some things while setting aside others. It ties me in to a tradition and repertoire I love, and in its particulars greatly improves my quality of life. Color me content — at least until I can get my hands on a three-row, 18 bass ideologue.
Around thirteen years ago I was at the Button Box and saw a tune book, Diatonic Liaisons, by Alexandra Browne. An amazing piece of work, it compiled original tunes by Frédéric Paris, Dave Roberts, Bruno le Tron, Alain Pennec, Alan Lamb, Andy Cutting, Trevor Upham, and Marc Perrone. With eight tunes by each of these worthies, along with extensive biographical notes, this was an amazing, unprecedented collection. On top of that, it was simply beautiful, with the music hand rendered, incorporating unique symbols to capture the particularities of button accordion practice. On any other day, I would have picked up the thing for twice the asking price.