Tribute: Vivant

Vivant:  Derriere les Carreaux / Knife Edge

Before you do anything else, give that track a listen. Careful, though. One can, if one is the type, fall into the beauty of it. Vivant, a duo of fiddler Mark Prescott and accordéonist Clive Williams (who has been mentioned here before, and who is well-known as one of the senior partners over at has an amazing touch. Lyrical, precious, sweeping … dare I say it? … pretty. I was going to write more extensively about the recording, but after I asked him a few questions, Clive offered the following, eloquent account Vivant’s approach, history, and new album coming up.

by Clive Williams

To stream in its entirety for FREE go HERE

Mark and I met at our local music session, the Vaults Bar Sunday session in Stony Stratford. It just so happened that we both happened to go for the first time on the same session, and happened to sit next to each other, and enjoyed playing together. I did some playing with Mark, and some playing with a fantastic guitarist, Chris Boland who I’d met through GIG CB (The George Inn Giant Ceili Band), and we then tried doing trio stuff together. It was very good, but not long after, Chris relocated to Liverpool and we dropped back to being a duo. A little while later, Mark had a year off doing round-the-world stuff, and when he came back, I got him involved with GIG CB, along with a couple of other fine chaps… and introduced him to the world of french dance music via our GIG CB Gennetines gigs where we go each year. And we did our first CD shortly after, as a way of getting back into playing together as a duo again – that was about 2001!

On the recording, you’ll hear 3 boxes – mostly the Castagnari Mory in D/G, with the semi-unisonoric layout that makes that A minor drone on the opening track, “After Hours,” possible. Try playing that on a standard melodeon! While it doesn’t actually give you more chords over a normal 12 bass, unisonorics add a lot of textural possibilities; you can play them normally, drone the bass note, drone the chord, hold a G chord drone while playing D, Bm, C, chord sequences over the top, and all manner of crazy stuff. It’s great for developing a bass “story” during a track, like in the Tallis’ Canon, where the tune on the melody end is more or less consistent all the way through; it’s the bass that varies. You’ll also hear a Hohner Model I 1930’s box in C/F, on “Carousel,” and “Mazurka Rigal,” and on a couple of tracks; “Benjamin’s,” and “Corpus Christi Carol,” the melody is played on a Castagnari Lilly in A/D. I’ve still got all three boxes, and you can see each of them in my youtube videos.

With one exception, Mark’s composition, “Julie,” the music is as it would be played live; i.e. in concerts we can play these pieces as played on the CD – there are no overdubs or ‘special guests’ – one of my bugbears is musicians who do a great live act, but when they come to do a CD, feel the need to spice it up by adding a bit of guitar here, a bit of drums there, and before you know it, they’ve got a sound which is nothing like the magnificent live sound which made you buy the CD in the first place.

So, when we play this stuff out, it’s quite similar to how we play it on the CD, albeit that we’ve both developed as musicians since then, so the nuances will have changed. It’s not arranged note by note – we simply listen to each other as we play, and complement each other. It also helps of course that without any guitarist/bass player/etc, I’ve got pretty much free rein to do whatever I want on the bass end without clashing. We like playing in churches; we do occasional gigs in my local parish church in Stony Stratford, where the acoustic is just amazing – our slower paced stuff suits the natural reverb of the church perfectly. We’ll be playing there again, in mid June, when hopefully we should have our long overdue second album ready.

The second album, by the way, will be just like the first; just the 2 of us playing, gentle but sweeping stuff, using the Mory and the C/F Hohner, and again played exactly as we would play it live.

Go to Vivant’s bandcamp site to stream the album in its entirety for free. You can also purchase or download it there.

Tribute: Musiqu’ à Deux

Myriam Lameyre and Jean-Yves
Lameyre: Musiqu’ à Deux

Musiqu’ à Deux is Jean-Yves Lameyre and Myriam Lameyre playing a panoply of trad France instruments — violin, accordion, cornemuses du Centre Francevielle à roue, and voice. Each of their recordings presents solid traditional French music played in straightforward, light, delightful, and eminently danceable manner. Primarily this is music of their own regions, Auvergne and Limousin. Put together, their three recordings present the repertoire of the region with brilliant clarity and energy. Here’s a classic set of mazurkas from their recording, En attendant l’orage.

Jour de Marché Vol. 2:
En attendant l’orage

The three recordings are available very inexpensively as downloads from iTunes, but also from their own website. The Jour de Marché recordings are wonderful, mixing tradFrench goodness with music from Italy, Ireland, England, Sweden, and other areas.  Their most recent recording, 2 Bals en poche pour danser du soir au matin , Limousin, Auvergne, is a two disc set (again, very inexpensive) that presents a “typical” set of dance music played at a bal from dusk to dawn. 

Here are some bourrées from 2 Bals.

Great to listen to, and great to learn “the repertoire” from.  Check it out.

Bourrée: On d’onderon garda

As always, any corrections, additions, or questions are appreciated.

I was listening to one of the first bourrées I’d ever learned, “On d’onderon garda,” and realized I had this tune in a number of versions. I listened to them all and found it a fascinating exercise. Thus, here are a number of different versions of this ear-worm of a tune. Check out the sheet music, as well. (There’s a difference in how some play the second bar of the A section. Some play it as here, one-and-two-three, others play it as one-two-and-three. Choose wisely.)

I first heard this tune about twelve years ago, played by Sylvain Piron on a Castagnari Giordy, a tiny accordion with a concertina-ish sound.

Sylvain and I, about to perform On d’onderon garda
at the Trenton Grange

I quickly downloaded the sheet music, which Sylvain had posted on his site. Later, when he visited the United States in 2002, we performed the tune together at the Grange hall in Trenton, Maine.

Sylvain’s light touch on the tune did not prepare me for the version I heard on a compilation called, Accordeons en Aubrec. This is pretty hard-core Auvergnat playing on the five-row, chromatic button accordion — the squeeze-instrument of choice for tradfrench music for most of the twentieth century. Note the spelling change of the name.

Christian Bessiere, “On Onarem Gardar”

As a counter-weight to this accordion-ish-ness I thought I’d include a version of the tune on French pipes, the cabreta d’amor, performed by José Roux. On this instrument, the tune becomes a completely different beast. This recording is especially nice because it’s done in duet with the chromatic accordion and bells. Pretty much the classic Auvergnat sound. I only regret I couldn’t find a version on vielle à roue.

José Roux, “Ont tirarem garda?”

[UPDATE] In another vein, a fellow over on pointed me to this recording of the open session at the George Inn, featuring members of the George Inn Giant Ceili Band (GIG CB) leading the festivities. Members include Alan Day (concertina), Mel Stevens (pipes), and Chris Shaw (melodeon). I invite you to bask in the experience of living in all that sound, the pipes right there, multiple hurdy gurdies, fiddles, conversation, glasses clinking, and you drinking. The melodeon player has place his ear against the box in order to hear it! Marvelous.

[UPDATE TWO] Alan Day, of the GIG CB, has posted a solo concertina version of the tune on his YouTube. It’s a delightful rendition that shows that, while it may sound “concertina-ish,” the Castagnari Giordy is not a concertina. Alan does some very interesting things with the rhythm and chords. Take a listen.

Finally, here’s a reposting of my recording of this, made about three years ago on my Salterelle Pastourelle.

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.

Castagnari Nik Encomium!

Photo by Brigid Chapin.

So I got it. Officially. Paid for and everything. Had to sell two other accordions and Fender Telecaster with amp. Worth every cent. Don’t expect an objective review. Rather, expect a panegyric, an encomium, an elaborate laudation. I have brought the Castagnari Nik home. Paid for it. Begun getting to know it. What a ridiculously effortless ease-of-play it has! Brigid has taken some pictures. Happy.

Happy! Don’t want to appear materialistic. Acquiring this thing, being happy. But I am. The sounds that come out of the Castagnari Nik. These sounds will improve my quality of life. Unfortunately, I don’t have the recording savvy to create a document that will truly communicate how wonderfully sonorous the Nik is. I will be going into a recording studio this summer. Here are two videos I shot, recently.

The first is a classic French Waltz, Belle Bergére (“Beautiful Shepherdess”). The left hand sounds a little honky on the YouTube. Sounds better in person.

The second video is another rendition of The Cheshire Waltz. I wasn’t very happy with the version I shot on the Saltarelle, and then a colleague said, “Bet that would sound great on your Nik.” And it does.

Is it the last accordion I’ll ever buy? That’s a beacon of grail shaped dimensions. This two-row, G/C, MM, no-stops box? This simple accordion … with it’s sweet sound and exquisite, unbelievable touch? Let’s just say, if it were the last accordion I ever bought, I’d be quite okay.

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