Quick Links: Oh Canada!

Once again, we spotlight our hockey and accordion-lovin’ neighbors:

  • Accordion Revolution
    Great pair of interviews that focus almost entirely on accordion-playing. One with our old favorite Geoff Berner (touring in support of his new album, Klezmer Mongrels) and the other with Felicity Hamer of the United Steelworkers of Montreal.
  • Joanna Chapman-Smith
    Like Geoff Berner, Joanna is another klezmer-influenced accordionist from Vancouver. She combines jazzy vocal stylings with acoustic roots instrumentation, killer clarinet lines and accordion flourishes, a touch of modern jazz and a touch of cabaret.
  • Walter Ostanek Band
    Canada’s Polka King finally has a website (and blog) worthy of his title. I really like the videos — Walter is warm, genuine, and, of course, an incredible accordion player.

25 Songs: The Klezmatics

In honor of the start of Hanukkah, we have a lively holiday track from New York’s klezmer superstars, The Klezmatics. In 2006, the band won a Grammy for its album Wonder Wheel, which brought the lyrics of Woody Guthrie to life. Soon after, the band released another album of Guthrie lyrics — Happy Joyous Hanukkah — based on a series of his songs about Hanukkah, Jewish history and spiritual life inspired by his mother-in-law, Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt. Whether you’re lighting a menorah or a Christmas tree this holiday season, this is a great tune to get the entire family dancing.

Orange County Klezmers

Orange County may not sound like a klezmer hotspot, but the Orange County Klezmers are bringing the sounds of Eastern Europe to sunny Southern California. This week, the Orange County Weekly has a brief interview with their founder/accordionist, Barry Friedland, who gives an overview of klezmer and its history, along with a testimonial to the accordion’s power to impress:

“Accordion has never been the cool instrument to play. But I stayed with it and remember playing at the school talent show in high school… I blew everybody away. It was really exciting… People had never heard an instrument do what an accordion can do. It’s a very versatile machine.”

The Orange County Klezmers’ album, Echoes of Vilna: Songs of Remembrance from the Ghettos, is a collection of klezmer music written in World War II-era ghettos. Even when played as instrumentals (Friedland worried that most people would be unable to handle the emotional lyrics), the music is moving, haunting, and captivating. The Orange County Klezmers do an excellent job of keeping this music alive.

This Week in Accordion: NAA Convention

What’s squeezin’ this week?

  • National Accordion Convention (Wednesday-Sunday in Richardson, TX)
    The National Accordion Association’s annual convention promises a diverse lineup of concerts, workshops, jam sessions, and more. It’s possibly the only place you can attend a Fred Ziwich Cleveland-style polka workshop followed by a Joél Guzman Tex-Mex button accordion workshop. (Update: There’s an article and video about the festival over at the Dallas Morning News.)
  • Klezmer en Buenos Aires (Wednesday in Stanford, CA)
    The acclaimed duo of César Lerner (accordion) and Marcelo Moguilevsky (clarinet/sax) make their first Bay Area appearance at Stanford on Wednesday, followed by a show in Berkeley on Saturday. Their unique sound combines Argentinian folk music with jazz, tango, and klezmer. (For more info, read the writeup in Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News.)
  • Musical Fortunes (Thursday in Berkeley, CA)
    Berkeley’s Jewish Music Festival kicks off with an original work composed by one of our local favorites, composer/accordionist Dan Cantrell. His “Musical Fortunes” explores themes based on traditional Jewish and Romani (Gypsy) music and features the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, Michael Alpert, and Rumen Shopov.

Check our calendar for more, including Daran Kravanh in Los Angeles and a tasty zydeco lineup at the Cajun-Zydeco Crawfish Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida.

If there’s an accordion event in your area that we’ve missed let us know!

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:

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The Wedding Dance of Geoff Berner

Geoff BernerCanada’s answer to Jason Webley, Geoff Berner is another mad genius songwriter on the solo accordion circuit. Biting and hilarious, dark and depressing — often all at the same time — Berner’s been delving deeper into klezmer with each successive album. He’s also the author of the international bestseller, How to Be an Accordion Player.

With his latest album, The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride, Berner continues his mission to “drag klezmer music into the bars kicking and screaming.” His raunchy, edgy take on klezmer may be blasphemous to some, but Berner insists that he’s simply getting in touch with the music’s emotional roots:

“In many ways [klezmer] was the punk rock of its time and place. These were the knockaround, hard-drinking, traveling people that you didn’t want your daughters to meet. These were not the classically trained musicians, and they were not always technical masters. They had something else to offer — they had guts in their playing.”

The album brings together the past and present, combining punk attitude with traditional Jewish wedding music. Aside from one Leonard Cohen cover, the songs are all original and inspired by traditional wedding song forms; for instance, “Weep Bride Weep” updates the traditional “Song to Make the Bride Weep” and “Song to Reconcile” is a dance to bring the in-laws together. It’s definitely an album worth slipping to the DJ at the next wedding you attend.