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CD Review: Guy Klucevsek
The Heart of the Andes

Guy Klucevsek: free bass convertor accordion


Klucevsek: Festina Tarde (Make Haste Slowly)
Klucevsek: Portables
Klucevsek: Bits and Pieces of Hard Coal
Dave Douglas: Variety
Philip Johnston: Birds
Klucevsek: Return of the Microids
Dmitri Shostakovich: selections from 24 Preludes and Fugues
Klucevsek: The Gift
Klucevsek: The Heart of the Andes (suite)

total time: 68:54
released: 2002
review date: Sept 2002

label: Winter & Winter/ Music Edition
Munchen, Germany
Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

Review by Steve Mobia

Guy Klucevsek continues to be one of the most unique accordionists around. Since the 1980s he has released quite a collection of eclectic recordings and this one stands as one of his most tuneful. It mostly contains Klucevsek's own folk-tinged pieces though there are others from Dave Douglas, Phillip Johnston and Dmitri Shostakovich. The CD packaging itself is quite beautiful with texture and reproductions of paintings by Stephan Fritsch.

From a background both in polka and avant-garde minimalism, Klucevsek's output is far from ordinary. As a performer he plays some really wild, surprising things from his fellow New York composers but his own work tends to be simple, quiet and contemplative. Often using a theme and variations format, the inspired melodies call to mind world folk music already associated with the accordion. In this way, Klucevsek the composer is more of a synthesist than a maverick. Yet even in what would appear to be a straightforward squared off tune, there is a subtlety that shows the breadth of his musical background particularly his use of the free bass to create counter rhythms and luxurious harmonies. A keen wit is never lacking.

Many of Klucevsek's pieces included here were from his theater collaborations in New York; in particular his ambitious evening long multi-media performance "Squeezeplay" which had a successful run in 2001. From what I've read, the piece was built around the accordionist himself and included video, dance and puppetry.

Festna Tarde (Make Haste Slowly) is a nice series of variations which start from a syncopated odd meter through a lyrical pastoral figuration and into lively off-kilter dance. Other pretty variations follow, accompanied by high reed harmonies, music box-like arpeggios, and ending in a stately slow finale.

There follows a series of shorter pieces called Portables. Though modest, each one is nicely crafted and the melodies stick in the mind. Where's the Tan Go? is built on a seven beat ostinato. Claire Bouyant is also ostinato based with flying and halting phrases. Walt's Waltz is a lovely teasing quasi waltz which alternates triple and duple meter.

Bits and Pieces of Hard Coal are two with a more direct folk element. Air Apparent has an Irish feel and Old Miner's Refrain is the most like an old-timey song (with a hymn-like chorus) which one can imagine words put to. A final variation resembles a jig.

After the folksy melodies of the first tracks, the 32 loud chugging opening chords of David Douglas' aptly titled Variety comes as a real surprise. It is composed of very contrasting sections with huge contrasts in dynamics. Beginning intensely with grand gestures underlined with repeated bass notes, a motive is nicely carried over into a close canon followed by a flurry of clusters. A variation of the motive leads to a very different theme with an almost Latin flavor. But before it can take hold, the chugging chords return and immediately another little unadorned melody enters and is again followed by the loud chords. After the scant melody reappears with accompaniment, a ferocious restatement of the opening motives closes this truly odd piece which really should have been longer. Klucevsek has played accordion in trumpeter Douglas' jazz group "Charms of the Night Sky" and this may be Douglas' first foray into accordion writing.

Another jazz guy, Philip Johnston wrote the next one: a quick catchy waltz named Birds in basic two part form. Then it's back to Klucevsek's own work with Return of the Microids; short pieces dedicated to Bela Bartok, probably inspired by the great composer's study of traditional Hungarian tunes. Here with Ala Bela a fast odd-metered dance is followed by a longer chordal variation The Tortoise Knows How to Make Love to His Wife. An exuberant march The Aerialist Somnambulates could have come out of an Eastern European circus. The final Microid is Many Happy Returns - simple, lilting and optimistic.

Portions from 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano by Dimitri Schostakovich have previously been given the accordion treatment by the band Excelsior (see review on this web site). The preludes that work especially well with the accordion's voice have been selected for this recording and are expressively played by Klucevsek. No fugues are included though it isn't clear why since a free bass accordion should be able play at least a few of them.

Guy Klucevsek's The Gift is haunting not only from the beauty of the tune but also the associations it conjures up. At times sounding like Stairway to Heaven and other times Astor Piazolla, the piece unfolds tenderly with grace and emotional power.

The title suite The Heart of the Andes originally accompanied a puppet performance about a blind man's imaginary journey through American landscape paintings (from Winslow Homer to Mark Rothko). Many moods are put forward, from the quirky skittering Three Chase Scenes to the plaintive Song for the Other Guy. Again the style is simple, tonal and often recalls folk traditions. There is also much subtle beauty in the playing.

Though the CD packaging looks great, there are meager notes concerning the pieces. The recording quality (done in Belgium) is excellent and Klucevsek's Titano bayan (with extended bass end) comes through with clarity and warmth. This album is a good one for listeners who are searching for unchallenging, easily accessible new music. Though the album lacks the edgy inventiveness of his last Free Range Accordion or the early Manhattan Cascade, it has plenty of gentle sophistication and toe tapping tunes.

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