Reed Song
Clean Feed CF005CD

Most people’s idea of accordion music is summed up by a Farside cartoon featuring St. Peter facing a row of newly deceased supplicants. “Welcome to Heaven”, he says to some. “Here’s your harp.” “Off to hell,” he says to others. “Here’s your accordion.” While sophisticated music followers may know that over the years accordions have been taught to swing by the likes of jazzman Art van Damme and Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, aural nightmares of Lawrence Welk-style purgatory still haunt most of us.

Will Holshouser knows all about this situation. A journeyman, he’s played his squeeze box in every situation imaginable from accompany Parisian-style chansonniers and in Cajun honky-tonk bands to working in combos led by R&B saxophonist Lenny Pickett, guitarist-crooner John Pizzarelli and Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer. He also worked with the Mamou/Elisa Monte Dance Company, studied with Anthony Braxton, scored films, recorded for NBC and NPR and studied Cajun and Creole Music in Louisiana.

REED SONG, for which he wrote all the music here, tries to reflect this and does present a composite representation of 21st century accordion playing. Unfortunately, while the 10 tuns offer something for the committed accordionphile, a sameness in execution and tempos prevents the disc from being wholly satisfying.

Intent on avoiding the rickety-tick accordion curse, Holshouser recruited musically sophisticated partners. Trumpeter Ron Horton, a members of the much-praised Jazz Composers Collective, plays regularly with pianist Andrew Hill. Bassist David Phillips leads his own jazz combo and also plays classical music and Broadway shows. Drummer/composer Kevin Norton — added on two tracks — frequently works with Braxton as well as other jazzers like guitarist James Emery and saxophonist Alfred Harth.

Truthfully it’s Norton’s splashes of straightahead drum rolls and quirky, tap-dancing percussion on “Dry” and “For the Birds” (sic), which gives those compositions added presence. Phillips’ hones in with some walking bass, Horton contributes some high note blaring —even sounding like a brass section on “Dry” — and Holshouser splashes out bouncy, tango-based cadences.

Earlier, especially on speedy numbers, the trumpeter shows off his pliancy, mixing a brassy, Lee Morgan-style attack with soaring choruses that wouldn’t be out of place in a Balkan or Italian wedding. When he isn’t comping like a 1950s jazz pianist, the accordionist double-times Zydeco rhythmic smears and trades fours with the trumpeter. Meanwhile Phillips’ foot tapping is as prominent as his pizzicato lines.

Trouble is, the three can only make like a Roma jump band on so many numbers. While tarantella dance or musette café pulses go far, when the tempo decelerates, joy leeches from the tunes. The title track, for instance, finds the arco bass lines meshed with a light bed of accordion reeds to such an extent that the result almost sounds liturgical. Plus Horton’s pert, walking measures end up resembling the playing of a Salvation Army hymn.

Other times, as waltz time, German beer rhythms and Parisian bistro schmaltz is expressed by the meld of accordion keys and buttons, the output begins to resemble Continental romanticism rather than Euro jazz. At times, in fact, despite his skill, it seems that at any moment Holshouser will break into “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”, or “Music To Watch Girls By”. In other places the music is too familiar sounding by half.

All in all, while the members of the Holshouser trio don’t deserve a one way ticket to a Larsonian hell, a bit of accordion music —even some as non-traditional as this — can go a long way. What can be hoped is as the three mature and experiment, a future CD will be 100% satisfying, not 65% like this one.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Nocturnal 2. Blue Light Special 3. Tang 4. Reed Song 5. Inside the Park 6. Dry* 7. Unfried 8. Sparkle of Never 9. It Got Bad 10. For the Birds*

Personnel: Ron Horton (trumpet); Will Holshouser (accordion); David Phillips (bass); Kevin Norton (drums)*