The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Dead End Avenue
Total Time: 74:13
Label: Newport Classic (NPD 85599)
William Schimmel, accordion
Welcome to Dead End Avenue and enjoy the contempt. In a sense, we've died—Luddites, accordionists, second and third bananas. On Dead End Avenue, we Accordio-Shintos worship our ancestors through our accordions. We play and hear Contino, Deiro, Frosini, Magnante, and Welk joining forces with Beethoven, Gershwin, Ravel, Sibelius, and Weill. We construct our shrines.
We de-construct our shrines. Nothing is too sacred on Dead End Avenue. Everything is sacred on Dead End Avenue.
All of the pieces on this recording are de-ranged—neither entirely composed nor entirely arranged. We like to hear and play music this way on the Avenue: no fantasy—pure reality!
Come and visit us on Dead End Avenue—anytime.
You'll find us!
Perhaps in the concert hall or in the subway; at your favorite bar and grille or on the street; in front of your favorite shoe store or in your church, or maybe at your favorite custard stand.
Wherever there are accordions, you'll find us."
(from the liner notes by William Schimmel)
Review by Henry Doktorski:
William Schimmel is a composer, author, lecturer, philosopher and accordionist, who has situated himself on the cutting-edge of new accordion music. Witness his 1984 album "Accordion Revisited" which features 20th century works by Otto Luening, Wallingford Riegger, Henry Cowell and other American composers.
Yet, despite his affection for the avant-garde, Schimmel also has a strong background in tradition, which
includes the American accordion style of the 30s, 40s and 50s as evidenced by the many transcriptions/ de-constructions*
of famous works on the album by Wagner, Debussy, Schubert, Beethoven, Gershwin, Sibelius, Rimsky Korsakov and
Ravel and also by his tribute to Contino, Deiro, Frosini, Magnante and Welk in the liner notes.
* Schimmel calls these "realities."
In "Dead End Avenue," Mr. Schimmel juxtaposes, layers and merges the two apparently incongrous stylist tendencies in a way which can only be coined "Schimmelian." His music is instantly recognizable; it is permeated with his multi-faceted personality—endlessly mutable and never carved in stone.
Although he quotes melodies and chord progressions and other thematic material by famous Western composers from Beethoven to Johnny Cash, his work is decidedly original. Certainly not 'high-brow' music, but certainly not 'low brow' either.
In a short essay titled "The Tradition of 'Non-Tradition,'" Mr. Schimmel talks about his philosophy:
"One afternoon in late April of 1989, Sofia Gubaidulina (the Soviet Union's great living composer) visited me in my upper east side studio in New York. She talked of the folk tradition of the Bayan. I talked of the tradition of non-tradition in regard to my accordion.
"In America, we have the tradition of non-tradition. In a sense we have an advantage. Much like Shintos we can adopt any tradition, worship any ancestor at any time or any place. We can destruct and re-construct our temples to suit our immediate or long range goals.
"Too often we turn to other cultures for a tradition to inherit, which is okay provided that we don't make that tradition the ultimate end of all. Perhaps the tradition of non-tradition is the truest tradition of all. (Sofia smiled and said: 'Perhaps you do have the advantage')."
So much for philosophy! Now about the music...
It is not easy for me to describe Mr. Schimmel's music in words. In fact, it is impossible. What can I compare it to? You have to hear it. This reminds me of an old Bengali proverb: one cannot taste the honey by licking on the outside of the bottle; one must open the bottle. (Schimmel says "or like licking honey off of a razor-blade.")
Perhaps I can give this recipe for "Dead End Avenue:" a dash of 19th century classical war-horses, a pinch of rock 'n roll and a dab of blues, all mixed helter-skelter in a soup-stock chock full of humor and sadness. One certainly cannot listen to Schimmel's music without being able to laugh... or to cry!
To tell the truth, I did not like much of the album when I first listened to it; only a few pieces appealed to me in the beginning. There is some dark music here which is rather menacing; it is a work of great duality and juggles on the razors-edge of light and dark.
But after the second and third and fourth listening, I began to see more of the total conception of the album and more and more pieces showed me their charm and beauty and mischievousness alongside of the darkness. This album literally "grows" on ya!
One of the most memorable tracks, in my opinion, is "Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue(s)," played on a 12 bass accordion. It is really quite amazing what a master can do with an instrument that most respectable accordionists would relegate to the mere status of a toy!
Listeners who are ensconced in 'tradition' may dislike this album; others may love it. But no one can be indifferent toward it! Mr. Schimmel is certainly doing something right, for the album (originally released on the Newport Classics label) will be shortly released on the Sony Classical label. This is significant news and worthy of our congratulations.
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