Accordions are the new guitars. It’s true and you know it. Everyone used to be all “oh listen to all the wonderful sounds that can be coaxed out of this six-string monster,” but guitars are over now, just a means to an end, something to pound on or strum to make oneself look cool, a cute throwback to Chuck Berry and Joan Jett.
[“Train to Heaven”: scary wobbly railroad noises with crazy-fast techno-synthy squelch. “Café Paris”: Gallic 5/4 time, Romany mystique with a dark undercurrent. “Balkan Dance”: honking counterpoint, ping and pong and whirling skirts, a smile at midnight.]
Pictures from the Street
US: 11 Jan 2005
UK: Available as import
But accordions! Accordions are full-on orchestras! Sure, we all think they’re like Lawrence Welk-time, oh-no-grandpa’s-drunk-again weapons against taste and discretion—but we’re wrong and we should apologize. Have you heard Celso Piña, Mexico’s “Rebel of the Accordion”, make it go boom and skank? Have you heard Daniel Höle, from the Czech band Ahmed Má Hlad, playing speedcore klezmer ska? Have you ever seen Buckwheat Zydeco live, where Stanley Burrell plays “Hey Joe” at top volume and makes the little girls and boys cry with happiness and pain? Have you people never heard of Astor Piazzolla? ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE????
[“Little Story”: what the match girl heard, in the version where she lives, and grows up sexy. “Tango”: way too fast to dance, showing off but with a wink, rock and roll won’t die. “It’s OK”: fanfare for workers, mad string section saws away, tense without tension.]
This album proves my point for me, without me having to hyperventilate. Motion Trio is made up of three amazing accordion players from Poland, all of whom have won prizes at national and international competitions. (Yes, they have competitions in Europe. And yes, I would happily attend them all, loaded on cheap beer and fatty food, and be in heaven.) They have studied at the university level, and are therefore technical experts… but they have also learned their craft playing as street performers, dodging skinheads and horses and opera snobs. So they have street cred too.
[“Scotsman”: bagpipe funeral, sad at first turning to slow acceptance, then sun. “Pageant”: monster walking bass, melancholy horseback pomp; then it gets funky. “Asfalt Tango”: hey you ‘compsers’, we can do minimalist WAY smoother than you! “Aide Jano”: eight minutes of bliss, slowly burning like a fire set in a trashcan.]
Which is why Pictures From the Street hits so hard. These are classically-informed, regular-person-friendly compositions for three accordions. Group leader Janusz Wojtarowicz treats the instrument like an “acoustic sampler” that can replicate any instrument, and really any sound. And these aren’t just any instruments, either; they were made for the group by the top manufacturer in the world, at a cost of 18,000 euros each, paid for by the Polish Ministry of Culture. (Suddenly, Euro-socialism sounds a whole lot better, doesn’t it?) So when he and Pawel Baranek and Marcin Galazyn get together, honking and bleating and blending and singing and interweaving and soloing and creating weird wild new beauty with their fancy orchestral toys, it’s kind of like they’re discovering a whole new world. Stay in your shell, if you like—I’m two-stepping all the way into the future.