MP3 Monday: Polkastra

PolkastraWhen a band is named Polkastra and their album is called Polkalypse Now, you know it’s going to be fun. But don’t let song titles like “Ludwig van Polka” or “Four String Polkanini” fool you; there’s some very serious musicianship behind Polkastra’s silliness.

Led by renowned violin virtuoso Lara St. John, this eclectic septet includes Israeli composer Ronn Yedidia on accordion as well as the New York Metropolitan Opera’s contrabassoonist. They set out to make a polka record just for fun, but soon found themselves exploring polka’s ties with folk, jazz, and classical music. It’s too bad that the polka Grammy is no more because Polkalypse Now is a blast — a joyous, energetic of celebration of polka in its many forms — and already one of my favorite albums of the year (polka or otherwise). You can find the digital album on iTunes now, while the physical CD will be released in August.

MP3 Monday: Vagabond Opera

Vagabond Opera: The Zeitgeist Beckons European cabaret, Balkan belly-dance, neo-Classical opera… it’s all in a day’s work for the Portland, Oregon-based six-piece, Vagabond Opera. Mixing Eastern European folk with creative, theatrical performances, Vagabond Opera is one of the few bands that can put on a thrilling show while still delivering the musical goods. And they’re not kidding around about the “Opera” part, either — the group’s lineup includes classically trained tenor and soprano vocals (singing in over a dozen languages), not to mention accordion, cello, stand-up bass, musical saw, and more. This track comes from their just-released third album, The Zeitgeist Beckons:

25 Songs: Jo Privat

Few musical scenes could compare to 1930s Paris, where bal-musette, jazz, and gypsy influences came together as “jazz manouche” or “gypsy jazz.” Guitarist Django Reinhardt is the name most often associated with this music, but there were plenty of excellent accordionists involved, too. Gus Viseur, Tony Murena, Joseph Colombo, and the artist on today’s advent calendar song: Jo Privat. This Privat track, from his album Manouche Partie, features musette guitar legend Jean “Matelot” Ferret and was recorded at the end of gypsy jazz’s reign, just before its popularity was eclipsed by rock and newer dance music in the 1960s.

Quick Links: Jazz, Idi Amin, and… Insurance?

Squeezin’ Cool Jazz: Cory Pesaturo

Cory PesaturoDo you dig jazz accordion? Yesterday’s Boston Globe has a glowing review of a recent performance by Cory Pesaturo, a 21-year-old jazz accordionist from Boston. Pesaturo is the only accordion player at the New England Conservatory of Music and, according to the Globe, “makes the instrument sound as natural and native to jazz as the saxophone or trumpet.”

Pesaturo switches between acoustic and digital accordions, using the latter to play solos as different “instruments” simultaneously. In an interview with the Providence Journal, he mentions how people are often surprised by the accordion’s versatility:

“It catches people’s eyes, and you can do anything with it. Most people think it’s only the polka box, but you can do totally everything.”

He’s just released a new album, Change in the Weather, with saxophonist George Garzone, who’s a teacher at the Conservatory where Pesaturo is a student. Here’s their rendition of a Cole Porter classic from that album:

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Wanted: Accordionist in New Orleans

Always wanted to live in New Orleans? Looking for a band? Ben Schenck of the Panorama Jazz Band is looking for an accordion player:

“I’m hunting for an accordionist, someone who’d like to consider relocating to New Orleans. I need someone with hot-shot chops, who can read charts and knows klezmer and jazz. Balkan and Caribbean would be nice, too.

We stay pretty busy. Work mostly in and around New Orleans with occasional trips. We do one weekly set in a downtown bar room plus weddings, bar mitzvahs, private parties, music festivals, etc.”

If you’re interested (or know someone who might be), you can contact Ben through the Panorama Jazz Band’s website.

Saluzzi and Lechner’s Ojos Negros

Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner, Ojos NegrosNPR aired an excellent review yesterday of Ojos Negros, the new album by Argentinian bandoneon great Dino Saluzzi and German cellist Anja Lechner. Saluzzi and Lechner have been collaborating for years and play chamber music rooted in Argentinian folk traditions.

Their music floats between classical and jazz, combining the formal structure of Saluzzi’s compositions with intimate interplay and improvisation between the bandoneon and cello. They’re touring the United States this month, including a show during the “Compressing the World” accordion music series at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.

You can listen to the full review on the NPR website:

The Will Holshouser Trio

Accordions are still all too rare in jazz, but Will Holshouser is doing his part to change that. A master accordionist, composer, and improviser, Holshouser’s unique sound crosses a wide range of genres, from chamber-jazz to folk to avant-garde and experimental.

It’s no surprise given his eclectic list of collaborators; in addition to his own band, the Will Holshouser Trio, he has played with David Krakauer & Klezmer Madness, Matt Munisteri & Brock Mumford, Musette Explosion, and numerous others. In a recent interview, Holshouser talked about the relationship between jazz and folk in his music, with emphasis on his involvement in klezmer:

“Playing klezmer has certainly changed the way I play the accordion. Among other things, I’ve learned to spit out runs of notes, to play peppery, dry, percussive chords, and to use ornamentation to tease out harmonic color. Many of these musical nuts and bolts are interesting and quirky, but what’s really fascinating is how they create such compelling effects — how they punch through our daily existence and help us to have these musical and emotional experiences that are so fulfilling.”

Most of Will’s original work is with the Will Holshouser Trio, which includes skilled improvisers Ron Horton on trumpet and David Phillips on bass. Their latest CD, Singing to a Bee, was recorded live in Faro, Portugal, during the Jazz No Inverno Festival in December 2004. To show you their versatility, here’s a track from that album that teeters between zydeco and jazz:

Daccorduett: It Takes Two

Enjoy jazz or showtunes? Check out Daccorduett — a new project from singer Konni Deppe and accordionist Andreas Hermeyer. Together, they give warm treatments to classic melodies like Henry Mancini’s “Crazy World” and “You and Me” (both from Victor/Victoria). They’ve played a handful of shows in Germany so far and are hoping to release a full album sometime this summer.