Jonas Kocher and guests

Duos 2011
Flexion Records flex_003

Biel/Bienne-based accordionist Jonas Kocher is one of the movers and shakers – in this case literally – in the struggle to free the accordion from its identification with Lawrence Welk and polkas and affiliate it with experimental sounds. He pushes his brief by demonstrating improvisational smarts in this series of duos and trio with seven other Swiss musicians.

With the bellow and button manipulation of the squeeze box moves past its expected comfort zone here, at points much of his playing replicates what would be expected from electronic interface. Paradoxically that’s likely why the weakest track here finds the accordionist playing alongside the electronics of Gaudenz Badrutt. While separating acoustic from processed flanges and undulations provides some curiosity, eventually sameness in methodology does in that duet.

Far more praiseworthy are those tracks where the longstanding partnership between accordion and saxophone or clarinet is re-imagined in the context of 21st Century minimalism. Both are reed instruments, with the achievement progress depending on the improvisational sophistication of the other partner(s). Essentially from the notated side of music, contrabass clarinetist Christian Müller succeeds in taming low-pitched rumbles mixed with tongue slaps and cries in such a way as to complement Kocher’s tremolo judders. But the metallic whooshes sourced and displayed intermittently evolve in a parallel rather than a bonding fashion. Preferable is when the accordion player mixes it up with Hans Koch’s bass clarinet plus Patricia Bosshard’s violin. With the last mostly limiting her output to tough plucks the other two have free rein to roll pressurized reed quivers and bellow squeezes into a bent-note eruption that excites as it moves chromatically.

Best of all is Kocher’s nearly 11½ -minute showdown with soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber. Able to keep the action moving in double counterpoint, at points the two effect the complex task of creating timbres whose source is unclear, and at others exposing perfect individuality. Advancing through several sequences, the saxophonist moves from delayed, flat-line tones to strident oscillations as Kocher’s pitch modulations encompasses tumescence shrills and pedal-point lows. Augmenting his lines with partials that result from extended reed techniques, Leimgruber offers novel expressiveness to the duet when he completes the track matching angry canine-like yelps to the accordionist’s tremolo rumbles.

Kocher’s remaining duets with Christoph Schiller’s spinet and Christian Wolfarth’s cymbals are also significant because of startling sonics. Schiller’s upsetting the continuum with sudden bounces and smears add an element of jagged Punk-Jazz from the pre-modern keyboard instrument. This is sophisticatedly countered by Kocher’s swirling slurs. Meanwhile using only cymbals, Wolfarth builds up a pointillist soundscape that resembles electronic interface more than Badrutt’s electronic work; but by the finale similarly vanishes as if a switch has been thrown.

Not for the faint=hearted or those who aren’t prepared to devote full attention to the six tracks, despite some missteps Duos 2011 presents without compromise one obdurate definition of the accordion’s contemporary range.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Koch & Bosshard 2. Wolfarth 3. Badrutt 4. Leimgruber 5. Schiller 6. Müller

Personnel: Hans Koch (bass clarinet); Christian Müller (contrabass clarinet); Urs Leimgruber (soprano saxophone); Patricia Bosshard (violin); Jonas Kocher (accordion); Christoph Schiller (spinet); Christian Wolfarth (cymbals) and Gaudenz Badrutt (electronics)