MP3 Monday: Chango Spasiuk

Chango SpasiukYesterday’s New York Times had a rave review for a recent performance by Chango Spasiuk, one of our favorite Argentine accordionists. Spasiuk is best known as an innovator of chamamé, a folk music from northeast Argentina which blends native Guarani, Creole and European traditions. But Spasiuk’s music goes beyond the traditional, incorporating rock, jazz and even avant-garde references. He’s drawn comparisons to his fellow countryman, the legendary Astor Piazzolla, and indeed, Spasiuk may well be doing for chamamé what Piazzolla did for tango.

Quick Links: From Russia With Love

  • CBS News: Accordions in Russia
    CBS News goes to Russia and finds a culture that embraces the accordion, with virtuosos like Valery Kovtun selling out concerts and young students lining up for lessons. The segment includes an interview with jazz accordion legend Art Van Damme during a recent trip to Moscow.
  • The Russia Journal: Amassing Accordions
    The “most accordion-obsessed person in the former Soviet Union”, Alfred Mirek has collected thousands of accordions and accordion-related objects over the past fifty years. Mirek has compiled an accordion encyclopedia, created a classification chart, and maintains that the accordion really originated in Russia, not Germany. Part of his collection is currently on display as part of the Moscow City Museum.
  • Russian Garmoshka
    The garmoshka (or garmon) is a type of Russian button accordion. The standard button arrangment is known as “25×25”: 25 treble buttons in two rows and 25 bass buttons in three rows.

Name That Accordion: C10?

Okay, accordion sleuths: reader Diane has sent us a few photos of an accordion with two notable features: a small V and “C10” on the front grille and a “Made in Italy” nameplate on the back. Thinking the V might be a clue to the manufacturer’s name, Diane contacted Victoria Accordions in Italy, but they didn’t recognize it. Any ideas? Click here for more photos.

Name that Accordion

MP3 Monday: Box Club

Bring together four of the best young accordion players in Scotland, each with their own distinctive style of playing, and you have Box Club. Gary Innes, John Somerville, Mairearad Green and Angus Lyon all met through the vibrant Glasgow music scene and saw an opportunity to showcase the versatility of the accordion by playing together. In a recent interview with the Highland News, they discussed the pros and cons of a four accordion band:

“One good thing with accordions is that they only have to be tuned once every five or six months, so you don’t have that thing of tuning onstage for the accordions. But it can be quite unforgiving as the note is either on or not, so if you’re all playing the same thing, the note has to be identical. So we’ve been spending a bit of time learning each other’s styles.”

This track comes from their debut album, released last Spring in the UK.

Blair Kilpatrick Answers More Questions

Accordion DreamsToday we’re closing the book, so to speak, on our Q&A series with Blair Kilpatrick, author of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music. In her last set of responses, Blair discusses her accordion collection, the SF Bay Area Cajun/Zydeco scene, and her dream “accordion lunch.”

If you could have lunch with the accordion player of your choice, who would it be and why?

That’s a difficult one. There are two Louisiana legends from the past I’d love to meet: Creole accordionist Amédée Ardoin (1896-1941) and Cajun accordionist Iry LeJeune (1928-1955). Iry, who recorded much of the core Cajun repertoire, was heavily influenced by Amedée, so I imagine they’d enjoy getting together. That would be a wonderful fantasy lunch—even though I’d have a hard time keeping up, since the conversation would be all in French.

But if I had to choose, I’d share one more meal with Creole accordionist Danny Poullard, my friend and teacher, who died in April of 2001. He was the guiding spirit of the Bay Area’s Cajun-zydeco scene. He gave away his music so freely—he had weekly jam sessions at his house, and he was so proud of his many protégé’s who went on to play in bands of their own. He also taught at music camps all over the country. My band was the final one to be shaped by his garage jam sessions. He even suggested our name, Sauce Piquante. He heard us perform as a full band just once, five days before he died.

So I’d love to bring him back to let him know how things are going—and to tell him he’s not forgotten. I hope he’d like my book. So much of Accordion Dreams is about my time with Danny. He was a tough but loving mentor—so I’m sure he’d offer a few tips about my accordion playing—and maybe even about the book, too!

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Play Accordion On Your iPhone

Apple is previewing a new version of iPhone software today, but I’m guessing they won’t include any accordion-related applications. Fortunately, Markus Palmanto has filled the void with Accordio — a new app that simulates a five-row chromatic button accordion on your iPhone or iPod Touch. I’ve been playing with it and, even though I’m a piano accordion guy, it’s surprisingly responsive and easy to hit the buttons. You can switch between common button layouts (B, C, G) and display the names of the buttons if, like me, you’re still learning your way around a chromatic keyboard. Here’s an impressive demonstration:

Looks like a fun way to practice on the go, or to entertain yourself while your accordion is in the shop. You can download Accordio for $3.99 (or €2.99) from the App Store. Or if you act fast, I have a few free download codes to give away — leave a comment or message me on Twitter to get one. (Update: Sorry, all the codes have been claimed.)

MP3 Monday: Irish Punk for St. Patrick’s Day

Matt Hensley of Flogging MollyAfter two weeks of shuffling boxes back and forth between our old and new homes, we’re back and ready to squeeze. And since we’ve left you high and dry for so long, we’ll make up for it with not one, but two tracks to add to your St. Patrick’s Day party playlist.

Metromix Denver put together a fun field guide to Irish punk bands and, of course, all such lists begin with the genre’s creators: The Pogues. Mixing traditional Irish instruments like the accordion and tin whistle with punk rock attitude and politically-charged lyrics, The Pogues are the blueprint that all other Irish/Celtic punk bands follow. This track features some nice accordion work by The Pogues’ accordionist, James Fearnley:

Flogging Molly approaches the Irish punk sound by melding old and new world — leader Dave King grew up in Dublin, but has spent most of his adulthood in Los Angeles. Named in honor of the L.A. club where the band cut its teeth, Flogging Molly have built a strong following over the years and their latest album, Float, cracked the top 5 in Billboard’s album chart last year. Skateboarder turned accordion player Matt Hensley squeezes the box for Flogging Molly:

Serbia Chooses the Accordion

I haven’t seen an accordion player on American Idol yet, but Eurovision — Europe’s annual song contest that pits nation against nation — rarely disappoints. Serbia just selected its representative for this year’s competition: “Cipela” (“The Shoe”) performed by Marko Kon and accordionist Milan Nikolic. According to Nikolic, the song was “based on an idea to bring the accordion back to the place it deserves. First in Serbia, then in the whole world as well.” That’s certainly an idea I can get behind.

In Japan, An Accordion for Every Child

We’re busy moving into a new place, so “MP3 Monday” will be postponed until later in the week. In the meantime, I’ll share a fun video from Accordeonactueel which, as best I can tell, is a Dutch accordion news site. Among the videos they’ve posted is this one featuring a series of Japanese childrens’ orchestras. (It could be the same one, just with different combinations of musicians.) But these are no ordinary orchestras — they’re made up almost entirely of accordions and melodicas. Why don’t we see groups like this in the US?