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Guy Klucevsek - Accordion
Alan Bern - Accordion, Piano, Melodica
Total Time: 66:10
Tales from the Cryptic
Guy Klucevsek - Accordion
Phillip Johnston - Saxophone
Total Time: 64:12
Tales from the Cryptic
review by: Steve Mobia
review date: March 2005
Lately Guy Klucevsek has been doing more composing than playing music written by others so these albums of duets and swapping of compositions comes as a pleasant and interesting listen. The first, "Accordance," with Alan Bern was recorded in 2000 and "Tales From the Cryptic" with Philip Johnston was made in 2002. The musical contents of both are more of the easy listening variety than some of Kluecevsek's more adventurous recordings of other composers. There isn't anything here to rival Aaron Jay Kernis' somber passionate "Hymn" or John Zorn's wild collage "Road Runner." Instead we are a treated to a generally upbeat, very tuneful meeting of the minds.
Both musicians collaborate well with Klucevsek and have a similar sensibility. Often it's hard to tell which composition is from Klucevsek and which is from Bern or Johnston. All have an interest in popular music forms and ethnic excursions. All have an irreverent sense of humor and subversive subtlety. Johnston tends to be more jazz oriented though there are plenty of jazzy sections on the Bern recording.
Alan Bern is the music director of Brave Old World, a Klezmer inspired "new Jewish" band. He also performed with Klucevsek on the second version of the group Accordion Tribe on a tour called "The Four Accordions of the Apocalypse." It's apparent from his contributions to this recording that his musical experience is diverse indeed. This syncs well with Klucevsek's equally eclectic interests. Bern plays both accordion and piano. There are so many short tunes, it's hard to comment on them all. A stand out is Klucevsek's syncopated "Bar Talk" with both accordion and piano on a loopy oft-punctuated path that at times recalls the zanier offerings of Nino Rota crossed with Stravinsky. Other memorables include the very Klezmer "Dueling Dovidls" and well as a quirky little collection from Bern called "Information Please" that seems to simulate telephone discourse. Some bittersweet melancholia is exhibited on "Astor Place," and "Starting Over". Traditional classical echos are evoked in Bern's "Scarlatti Fever" as well as the concluding march "Happy".
I first became aware of Philip Johnston back in the early 1990s from a friend's recording of Johnston's group Big Trouble doing an original soundtrack to Tod Browning's movie "The Unknown." I was reminded of the musical efforts of Carla Bley with its direct melodic style and populist cabaret/circus atmosphere. He has worked before with Klucevsek on the Polka From the Fringe project and contributed "The Pontius Pilate Polka" to that most unlikely collection.
Here, playing a exquisitely sweet soprano and alto sax Johnston gives lyrical compliment to the not very cryptic proceedings. There are a few odd numbers though: "Am-Scray" with a short waltz leading to a short hymn tune leading to hesitant unisons leading to a lyrical solo leading to some fretful horn riffs leading to a short om-pah coda. A little schizo but so it goes. "The Needless Kiss" gets a little closer to the cryptic with it's multiple choice mood shifts and arresting harmonic clashes.
A highlight is a re-rendition of Klucevsek's "The Gift" which was played solo on the album "Heart of the Andes." Here Johnston's sax rounds out the lovely ballad which has some achingly heartfelt passages.
A pleasant inclusion is "Petite Ouverture A Danser" by the French iconoclast Erik Satie. Satie's simplicity and sly humor would certainly appeal to Klucevsek and he even responded with a homage: "A Pear for Satie" (referring to Satie's "3 Pieces in the Shape of a Pear"). Johnston's pitch bending sax haunts the action like a slippery ghost.
There's the jaunty jazzy number "Slippin' on a Star", the Klezmer styled "Diggin' Bones" by Johnston, leading to Klucevsek's response "A Goyish Kind of Blue". The ostinato based "Spin Cycle" opens the record and a tongue-in-chest arrangement of "The Blue Danube" concludes over an hour of lively musicianship. It's infectious good cheer will chase the wax from your ears.
Both these duet recordings have excellent production values and beautiful non-glossy packaging by Winter & Winter. There's not much in the way of composer bios or other program notes and I'm assuming Klucevsek and company prefer to let the titles and music stand on their own without a paper trail.
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