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!

Jac Lavergne: Musikadansé 3

This video features amazing playing from diatonist Jac Lavergne, in duet with cabrette player, Sandrine Lagreulet. Nearly a year and half ago, I wrote a tribute to Jac Lavergne, box player and guiding spirit of the Compagnie Léon Larchet. Among his many projects are the Musikadansé duets with Langreulet, filled with “bourrées d’Auvergne, Cercle circassien, scottish, valse, marche, mazurka ou encore polka.” A stunning video, just thrilling! A clinic for any box player who wants to play with a devastating left hand and a rock solid rhythm.

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.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑