Le Lundi Accordéonaire III

Every Monday, I will be posting a new or newly discovered (newly by me, anyway) video of French accordionistics. If you would like to draw my attention to something out there that should be posted, or want to submit one of yourself playing some French tune (including Breton) on accordion, email me here. This one features Patrick Lefebvre on CBA. He’s one of my heroes. I wrote a tribute to him in 2011.

Streaming L’Accordéon

Part 1: Getting to Rdio

So as not to bury the lede, I’ll just let you know that this story ends with me completely enamored with the Rdio service and the music it brings into my life. But it wasn’t a sure thing … Give a listen to this playlist while you read on!


As someone whose aesthetic is devoted to an instrument founded in technology that was around before the Caesars — i.e., levers, valves, and bellows — it should surprise no one that I am rarely an early adopter of, to use a technical term, the “newly fangled.” I had to be counseled through the great CD conversion of the 1980s, and just five years ago, MP3s seemed like so much ephemeral cods-wattle to me.

I go through a process, I’ll admit. It resembles grief, in that there are stages. (ANGER: “F*&^ing music industry wants us to buy our music AGAIN in another format!  I don’t think so!”  DEPRESSION: “Oh, my beloved record collection … *sob* … vinyl … *weep* … beautiful covers … *salty tears* … wasted …”) But when I reach acceptance, I reach it completely, wondering how I had ever doubted in the first place. This is usually when my wife steps in and somehow signals that it’s time for me to get a grip already. It was my wife, for example, who bought me my first iPod, thus bringing my doctrinaire objections about the value of artifacts and “the authentic listening experience” to a deserved end.  Now that was cods-wattle.

So, in January my wife bought me a subscription to Rdio, a commercial music streaming service. Not something I had considered before. I had heard of Spotify and other such streaming services, of course, but I always asked myself, as Neil Postman suggests we do, “What is the problem for which this technology is the answer?” I could think of none. Subscribe to Spotify? Why would I do such a thing? You want me to pay for music that I wouldn’t then own??? What kind of IDIOT would do that???

I got the e-mail:  “You have subscribed to Rdio …”

What? At that point, I had never heard of Rdio (which, I later discovered, is pronounced in the pirate manner, “Ar-Dee-Oh”). Then I got the text from my wife, “I just subscribed you to Rdio …” My wife, as I have mentioned in the past, is a woman of marvelous virtue. She knows me, and she knows things. If she thought I should check out Rdio … hm.

Part 2: And What I Found There

What fresh new Hell is this? Ah … Wondrous!

In many genres, I have discovered, Rdio (and Spotify) present one with an unimaginable cornucopia of music. It’s stunning, and the price ($14.95 USD) is astounding when you consider the ridiculous availability, and the fact that suddenly, your shelves of CDs have shifted from being repositories of treasure to being sites of clutter and storage problems.

One of the first artists I looked up was Red Garland, a jazz pianist who I’m particularly fond of, and immediately I found The Complete Studio Recordings. Thank you very much. I think I will. Then I started looking for Baroque music — Bach, Handel, and all that — and sweet mother of God! One could listen their whole lives without exhausting the goodness there. How about the entire Topic Records catalogue, a cornerstone of BritTrad music? Yes, they do. What about … well, you get the idea. They had a lot of music in a lot of genres. They may not have had every specific thing I went looking for, but they had enough so that at any given moment in time I could find excellent music that would scratch whatever itch I had at that moment. Extraordinary.

But what about L’Accordéon? What about the tradFrench that runs through my free reed veins? Give a listen to the playlist!

An abundance! Perhaps I did not discover that long lost Marc Perrone recording I’ve been looking for — the one with “En Avant Blonde” — but I did find four others. I conducted a fairly thorough search and found a couple of La Chavannée recordings, some Patrick Bouffard. I did find some material that I had never seen before. Hurdy gurdy player Philippe Besson recorded on the Parsiparia label, and there was quite a bit of goodness there. Trio Safar, a fantastic group featuring accordéonaire Christian Maes, just one of the insanely virtuosic Belgians I found at the L’autre Distribution Rdio page. Chanson was well represented, from Edith Piaf to Emmanuelle Pariselle — very helpful and timely, since I’ve just been asked to play in a chanson tribute in Lewiston! And still, surprises arise!

Rather than run through the laundry list, I’ve put together a short playlist. I invite you to enjoy. It contains some new discoveries for me, but also some bog norm favorites. Patrick Bouffard’s “Valse A 5 Temps” is a staggering minute fifty-nine of music. “Nova,” from a compilation of Breton accordéonists, starts off in a suspiciously modern mode, but resolves to laride greatness. If I had included Irish accordéonists or more English players, the list would be very long.

I invite you to join me on Rdio. I am not a shill. This is not a paid advert.

“What,” I hear you say, “you can’t see paying for music and then not ‘owning’ it?” I would invite you to consider what the “ownership” of music means, and then have a conversation with Chief Seattle about what it means to own the land. I feel as if I’ve been given direct access to the greatest artistic achievements of mankind, and I intend to enjoy it.

One-Row Goodness

Castagnari Max, One-Row

Diatonic Accordion players speak affectionately of the warmth or lift generated by the push/pull action of their boxes. It’s better for dancing, they might say, or, it has a character to it that’s different from (read better than) chromatic or piano accordions. I don’t believe that this is always true — Patrick Lefebvre’s chromatic playing has plenty of lift, rhythm, and character — but when played well … wow … one-row, pushing/pulling accordions can really get a little somethin’ somethin’ going.

Andy from Vermont recently posted three recordings of himself playing Quebecois tunes on his Melodie one-row in D and I find myself completely besotted. Go see for yourself. Wonderful.

Accordion Speak 101: Breton Music

I pulled this out of the Patrick Lefebvre post because I thought it would stand better on its own. Apologies if I’m wrong. As always, comments, questions, and corrections are welcome.

Bombarde and Biniou Duo:
Piercing and Piercing-er

Breton accordion music is not something I mentioned in my foregoing post, A Brief History of French Accordion, and I’ve been chided for it. Breton music, the music of Brittany, is a parallel tradition to the musique traditionelle du centre FranceThe two traditions rarely encountered one another. Brittany is the celtic region in northern France, and its music is characterized by small pieces of melody repeated, repeated with slight variation, and trance-making persistence. About a hundred years ago, accordions joined the Breton musical ensemble, along with the bombardes (shawm) and biniou (bagpipe). When I stumbled onto Patrick Lefebvre in 2003 I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing as a Breton accordion tradition. But there is. There is.

Tribute: Accordéon Gavotte

Listening to the new (2008) Patrick Lefebvre recording, War Hent Skrigneg (Accordéon Gavotte), I am transported back about five years to my first Button Box sponsored Squeeze-In, in western Massachusetts. It’s after reasonable hours and the accordions and concertinas are still going. Wife is asleep with young ‘un, and I wander off, accordion in hand. In the dining room, I run into Andrew (of Vermont). He’s got a bottle of wine. We set to playing. Very shortly we stumble onto our small, mutual Breton repertoire. “Have you heard Accordeons-Gavotte,” he asks, “by Patrick Lefebvre?” And I had, but was stunned to be asked. Seriously, as amazing as it seems, one does not often get asked about Breton accordion virtuosi. Go figure.

What is so amazing about Patrick Lefebvre, and his tour de force recording, Accordéon Gavotte? Aside from his unrelenting vision (he’s playing solo accordion Breton dance tunes, and that’s what he’s doing) he does things that I’d never heard before.  He varies the tempo, for instance, playing the melodies through slowly, expressively, before moving to dance tempo. Another technique is to add banks of chords to the playing as the tune progresses. By this I mean that Lefebvre will play through the tune with only two reeds sounding, then add a third bank in to increase the depth and emotion. This isn’t difficult, but you don’t hear it done that much. (Perceived as cheesy?) Lefebvre uses the technique to great effect. Building the drama, whipping us into a frenzy, piling the wet-tuned reeds one on top of the next. 
Most impressive, though, is Lefebvre’s use of the left hand. His basses leave you shaking your head, “How did he do that?” Very interesting! Very inspiring! I had a conversation about this with a dance instructor. She found Lefebvre’s playing maddening. With the very interesting, very inspiring basses, she kept losing the one! How could you dance if you kept losing the one?!

One of the things I learned from Andy of Vermont was that one of the ways Lefebvre “did it” (i.e., played so fleetly with such amazing basses and chords) was that he played a chromatic accordion on many tracks, not a diatonic. It seems so obvious, now, but at the time I hadn’t noticed. At first I was a bit crestfallen. I was a bit of a diatonic purist, then — unlike now. (Hey!)  But what is fantastic about Accordéon Gavotte isn’t the technique, or the fleetness, or the easy way with basses and chords. What is fantastic about Accordéon Gavotte is Lefebvre’s marshaling of these elements in a way that is traditional and intensely creative, simultaneously. He makes the melodies shine. His legato sections — intensely sad with fermata — may be the most tragic moments in all music. The shift to dance are equally joyous releases. What’s fantastic about Accordéon Gavotte is the endlessly rich stream of melodies. It’s sequel, War Hent Skrigneg (Accordéon Gavotte), is equally rich. You should get both. They will improve your quality of life.

UPDATE: Here is an excellent article introducing the music of Brittany.

UPDATE 2: You can get War Hent Skrigneg (Accordéon Gavotte) at iTunes and eMusic.