Wednesday, April 27, 2011

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.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Accordions and a Certain Kind of Woman

Apparently, accordionists were, at one time in history, very desirable to a certain kind of woman, as this sheet music cover suggests.


UPDATE: I had lost track of where I found this picture. The web site is the Typologie des instruments à vent. Here's some of the accordion material. (Thanks to Chris Ryall.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Bal Folk Tune Book

As always, any questions, comments, or corrections are welcome.
Update Above

Bal Folk puts many of the classic Massif
Central Tunes back in print.
In 1998, when I bought my Hohner Corso from the Button Box, I also picked up two books that changed my life easily as much as the Corso itself. Actually, I only bought one, the pink one, volume one of Mel Stevens The Massif Central Tune Book. It was one of those bizarre fits of frugality. I was spending hundreds on the accordion, but another fifteen dollars to get volume two of the set? Such frugality could not stand. That night I tossed and turned. Was I really going to leave Amherst without that book? The next day I went back and got volume two, the blue one, and headed home. In such a feeble manner I acquired the bedrock texts of my musical life.

I don't have all the details regarding the history of these books, but here is what I've pieced together.  Stevens' books, published by Dragonfly Music in 1987, contained 240 traditional dance tunes from Central France. This is the repertoire. Unfortunately, both the pink and the blue volumes have been out of print since the early 2000s. For a number of years you could get them directly from Stevens, but the idea that these were basically unavailable seemed pretty outrageous.

Enter Dave Mallinson, a British publisher of traditional music tutorials, tune books, etc. Mallinson bought the rights to all of Dragonfly's stuff. It took a while for the material to come out, but in 2010 Bal Folk: Traditional Dance Music from Central France were released and the music of the pink book and the blue book became available again.

Well, some of it.

First of all, let me just state clearly that Bal Folk is a fantastic set and will serve any musician well in acquiring the right tune-age. But there are differences between this one book collection and the pink and blue set. For one thing, it's clearly labeled that Bal Folk contains a "selection" of tunes from the Dragonfly books. The Dragonfly set had 240 tunes, Bal Folk has 214. The tunes that seem to be missing are those that were contemporary, some written by members of La ChavannéeFrédéric Paris, Patrick Bouffard, Maxou Heintzen etc., all have credits in the pink and blue books. Presumably, Mallinson was unable to include those for reasonable copyright reasons. He did decide to include around twenty original tunes by two English musicians, Trevor Upham and Chris Shaw. I had not encountered either of those gentlemen before, but they are perfectly delightful tunes. I would be curious to know how Mallinson made the decisions he did.

Regardless, I'll continue playing tunes from this book and recommend you do the same. It's a great collection, no doubt, and for anyone encountering it for the first time it can be the same sort of gold mine that the pink and blue books were for me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Giordy Has Gone to a Better Place

This video posted by GbHandlebar makes it clear that selling my Giordy was absolutely the right thing to do. There it is, the dickens, in Handlebar's hands. Even in this short piece, he gets better sounds out of the little Castagnari than I was ever able to. Well played! Beautiful stuff. The tune is Andy Cutting's Flatworld.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

La Roulante


A Jean Blanchard tune, this one also goes by the name, "The LNB Polka." Blanchard, who I've written about briefly, is one of those credited with reviving rural French folk music in the early '70s. I recorded this video as part of Melodeon.net's Tune of the Month festivities. Even though it's called "The LNB Polka," there are some who say it is not, in fact, a polka, but a scottish. Having not heard Blanchard's version I played it the way it made sense to me. Enjoy.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Trip to Alsace (Part Three)

Part One

In 2004, my wife, Bethany, and I were given the gift of a trip to Alsace, France, to visit my accordion teacher, Sylvain Piron, his wife, storyteller Catherine Piron-Paira, and their family. I wrote the following shortly after the trip. It appeared some time later in Wolf Moon Journal, a local Maine literary magazine. I present it here in installments over the next few months.


Sylvain Piron, J'ai un noveau chapeau, MP3




(This tune plays a part in the story a few paragraphs down, but I thought I'd include it here because it's just that good.)


Accordion besotted simpleton (me).
Charlie playing stage left.  Bethany
in cantaloupe sweater in back.

Sylvain and Catherine threw a party for us on the third night of our trip. Not just a small gathering, but a grand fête held in the community center of Steinbourg. After the birthday parties of our youth, very few of us have the experience of having a party thrown in our honor. Not that this crowd really needed an excuse to party, but when we walked into the hall and saw the vast banner with the words, “Welcome to Gary and Bethanie,” stretching across the entire length of the stage, we were speechless. Would it be possible to feel more welcome?
“We’re in Alsace, about to play Alsatian music with Alsatian friends.” The happy mantra of an accordion-besotted simpleton. Sylvain seemed nervous, not knowing how many people would show up. Throwing parties is an anxious business on any continent. Folk dancers and musicians are notoriously tardy people. It was Tuesday, a workday. Sylvain wasn’t sure how well he had publicized the event amongst the music community. Yes, the meal was a potluck, but how much beer and wine should he buy?
A good amount, it seems. Throw a party, they will come. And they will bring wonderful food, and they will be prepared to dance and drink. They will also be thrilled to try out their English on you, and--in the age of Bush and the Iraq war--discuss politics and art. Many came from Sylvain and Catherine’s monthly dance group. They knew the tunes and dances in a way that few American crowds--even contra-dance aficionados--would have. After eating, a group of five or so musicians drifted to the far corner. Gilles, the guitarist, tuned up. Marie, Sylvain’s daughter, assembled her flute. The accordionists noodled. We don’t need to tune. 
An agglomeration of accordionists, with François and
Dani on fiddles
In came Charlie, an accordionist, still dressed for work. Then François, a lanky and excellent fiddler arrived. Cedric, a charismatic accordionist who’d learned from Sylvain, came and shook the hand of every musician in the room. This was the first time I’d participated in this particularly French gesture which, to me, says, “We’re in this together.” Danielle, another accordionist, was introduced to me as an English teacher. I had one of those moments in my mind and blurted our, “You’re kidding!” Not because I didn’t believe her, but because it occurred to me that an English teacher in Alsace is a very different thing from an English teacher in the States. Yes, I know it’s obvious, but the fact of that difference delighted me.
After two hours, the crowd achieved its number. Sixty to eighty people. Twenty musicians, ten of them accordionists. It made me wonder: if sheep come in herds, ravens in murders, and Mongols in hordes, what do accordionists come in? Are we merely a “band”? (We few, we happy few ...) What is our unit of agglomeration?
Even though I’d spent years learning tunes from Sylvain, I found I didn’t know half of what was being played. Of course, this means that I did know half of what was being played, and that fact was a comforting gem of amazement. Sylvain regularly turned to me, asking me to start a tune. It struck me that, even playing tunes that I’d known for years, my fingers were being guided by the musicians around me. Very subtle issues of tempo or touch--which I had struggled with back home--were settled merely by my being in a room with the accordionists who belonged to these tunes. French accordion music was not an obscure passion for them. It belonged to them, and they to it. They were at home, and standing next to them, I learned, musically how to get home.
An English country dance in France
Photo by Martine Lutz
At various points through the evening I found myself fixating on my wife. Bethany had been a bit anxious about dancing, not cowardly as I was, but nervous. The week had been filled with dance of the most charming sort. Catherine took Bethany under her wing, teaching Bethany to waltz and mazurka while Sylvain and I played. Catherine was an excellent teacher, intuitive and kind. Bethany was an excellent student, grateful and willing. The two of them were a delight to watch. Bethany shimmered as if she were the object of a love song. She looked beautiful, happy, and fluid. Through the Breton circle dances, the an dro and hanter dro and the English country dances, mazurkas, scottishes, and waltzes, I was proud of her in a very lusty way.

Sylvain Piron, J'ai un noveau chapeau, MP3



"J'ai un noveau chapeau ..."
Photo by Martine Lutz
Later in the evening I started a tune. “J’ai un noveau chapeau” was written by Sylvain, and it was well loved. As soon as they heard the first notes, the crowd flew into action. The size of the dance circle doubled, musicians, who had been milling about, ran over to get their instruments to get a a piece of the action. Sylvain walked over to the circle, beckoning us in. Charlie, Cedric, François, and I followed. The circle opened, and we stepped into the middle. It was an embrace, the dancers and the musicians. Sylvain sang the first line, “J’ai un noveau chapeau ...” and the entire room took up the song. Fifty people, it must have been, singing together, with Sylvain at the center. Catherine led the dance, but no one needed to be led, really. The very simple Breton rhythm, the simple steps, Sylvain’s funny lyric, his voice, his tune, his accordion. It wasn’t louder than the ten other accordions playing, but it was certainly more central.
I looked at Sylvain. I looked at Catherine, his fiancé. Cedric,his student. The dancers. Their friends. Their children. Bethany dancing! And myself -- was everyone happy?
Everyone.


(Sylvain Piron's CDs are available for FREE DOWNLOAD at his website, Tradfrance.)