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CD Review: Guy Klucevsek
Free Range Accordion
Guy Klucevsek - solo accordion
David Garland - vocals on "The Blob"


Montague - Aeolian Furies
Kitzke - Breath and Bone
Satoh - Recitative
Vierk - Blue Jets Red Sprites
Klucevsek - Three of a Kind
Bacharach - The Blob
Bacharach - One Less Bell to Answer
Kernis - Hymn
Hollmer - Boeves Psalm

total time: 72.05
released: 2000
review date: November 2000

label: Starkland
Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

Review by Steve Mobia

There's nothing like a Guy Klucevsek album. His eclectic sensibility is unmatched in the accordion world. Where else are you going to hear a goofy rendition of the horror movie theme The Blob alongside a serious dissonant dirge like Kernis' Hymn? This wild gear shifting is something unique to Klucevsek's sensibility.

While most classical accordionists would steer clear of standard accordion fare (polkas, waltzes, folksongs), Klucevsek acknowledges the public's common association with his instrument and makes the most of it — turning standard popular forms on their head using imaginative reinterpretations of the genres. He even came out with two albums of nothing but polkas (albeit the strangest polkas ever written).

In the present album though, there is less of this remixing and more originality. At times, particularly in Aaron Jay Kernis' Hymn the level of intensity and depth is nothing short of alarming. In other places, sophisticated silliness reigns. The "isms" of composers of the past have been surmounted by a general "musicism" (that is, all music has something to offer).

Though Guy Klucevsek is certainly capable of speed demon playing (as evidenced by the cascading arpeggios in Montague's Aeolian Furies) much on this recording makes use of slow homophonic textures. Despite an impulsive zanybone, his talent and interest here lies in subtlety, not flashy pyrotechnics. Most of the works chosen were written for Klucevsek by composers he has met and been moved by. In this recording he plays a Titano "bayan" which has an extended range, giving the deep bass quite a punch.

Stephen Montague's rapid fire Aeolian Furies starts things off. The word "aeolian" refers to the natural minor mode as well as the Greek mythological "king of the four winds." Descending whirlwind triplets lead into syncopated unisons for both hands. After a brief reprise of the opening, the piece slows down to rolling swelling chords like a turbulent ocean. Then gusts of wind begin to move things again back up through the unisons heard before. The lines build in intensity with rhythmic energy being discharged in falling glissandos until a strong cluster chord completes the section. Tentatively the rhythm starts again though in spurts. The unison theme reenters along with the opening arpeggios and triple bellow shakes to a finale of diving glissandos.

The next piece, Jerome Kitzke's Breath and Bone, is pretty hard to describe. Full of loud and lively vocal effects (hooting and yelping, scat singing), percussive beating on the bellows, whistling, etc. Klucevsek is perhaps the only accordionist who could pull this one off. The result is funny, outlandish and tender. A bluesy melody gets going than gets sidetracked into several other propulsive tangents before coming back to the opener rondo style. Then a soft whistling cadence leads to a gentle waltz. The spell is abruptly broken by a mad clock-like ticking. Then a reprise of the second subject is concluded by swooping vocals and finally a major chord pared down (or up) to a lone high E.

After the restlessness of the first two tracks, Somei Satoh's moody Recitative makes for a strong contrast. One can imagine huge dark waves advancing and cresting in slow motion. Klucevsek's handling of extended rising and falling dynamics here is brilliant. In the bass a drone generally centered on B continues throughout only to rise briefly to support a couple of emotionally intense peaks.

Lois V Vierk has written for Klucevsek before, most notably her shimmering yet aggressively relentless Manhattan Cascade on the album of the same name. That piece was firmly in the minimalist camp. This one offers more variety. Blue Jets Red Sprites, said to be inspired by atmospheric phenomenon around lightning strikes is in several sections. After some building chords with yo-yo glissandos and swelling dynamics, a loud chugging begins, tossing chords from treble to bass. Some syncopations follow, leading into the longest section based on ascending scalar figures against a regular pulse alternating with undulating major thirds. The chords grow more dissonant, the ascending figures longer and faster. Finally, out of a descending syncopation the chugging returns with a vengeance to conclude.

Guy's own pieces lately have a spare simplicity with repeating folk-like tunes. His artistry is in the phrasing of these deceptively easy passages. The three included here were written for a dance performance and are gentle and unimposing. The first Coral Desert, opens with the highest pitch reeds slowly outlining the theme. Then some nice ornamented harmonies enter and embellish it, occasionally inserting a wry playful comment. Extending lower, a deeper register accompanies the last restatement and the piece ends. Organum presents an ostinato which subtly changes throughout. Over this is an expanding melody based on the ostinato figure in two polyphonic lines. A lovely ornamented folk-like tune opens AOK Chorale which largely consists of floating major seventh progressions which harmonize a repeating phrase which is a bare bones version of that opening melody.

The craziest entry on the album is a theme and variations of the sixties horror movie title song, The Blob, by pop veteran Burt Bacharach. The vocals sung by David Garland, include lyrics I don't remember from the original (which I saw appropriately at a Denver drive in when I was a kid): "It oozes and schmoozes, it lurks and works the room. It tangos, eats mangos, chit chats, wears spats. It seems quite harmless (after all it's armless) but please be careful of the blob."

A more serious look at Bacharach's tunes is the following spare rendition of his hit One Less Bell to Answer. Done on the accordion's high piccolo reeds playing the melody without accompaniment, this arrangement perfectly expresses the loneliness the song describes.

The masterwork on this CD is Aaron Jay Kernis' nearly nineteen minute Hymn. Pondering the issues of war and suffering, Hymn is reminiscent of the great Russian bayan works of Berinsky and Solotarjow, with it's huge pipe organ sonorities and dark pathos. The opening deep loud minor chords get progressively more agitated and dissonant, leading to a descending theme which acts as a sort of passage or summation of grief with its falling line. The second part, a quiet yet still unnerving eulogy is suggestive of inner rumination of troubled thoughts bubbling just bellow the surface. After a reprise of the passage theme, the tensions suppressed in the second section erupt impulsively alongside a restatement of the opening. There seems to be a struggle as one theme interrupts the other, becoming a wild flurry of cluster chords building to an intense violent climax. The forth section is a reconciliation as light breaks up the preceeding dark colors and the harmonies ascend slowly and deliberately into the upper regions. This is one powerful listening experience and commands complete attention.

To conclude, Klucevsek plays a pretty tune, Boeves Psalm, by the Swedish accordionist Lars Hollmer. On succeeding repetitions, the simple tune is filled out with added voices, giving it an almost heroic optimism.

This CD is well thought out as a journey of extreme contrasts. Only Vierk's piece failed to hold my complete attention through the entire seventy two minute duration. The recording is well made with some stereo separation between the treble and bass manuals and tastefully applied reverb. The eleven page CD booklet is detailed in the bios of the composers and Guy's own emotional reflections on their music. This one is certainly among Klucevsek's best efforts.

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