March 26, 2017
Ute Völker & Udo Schindler
Valve Records #6487
Bruit Records No #
Usually relegated to the dark corners of the scene where their raison d’étre is to accompany Schuhplattler, polkas or Lawrence Welk-like champagne music, the accordion is coming out of its shell in certain areas. Like traditional food stuffs whose organic properties are enhanced when prepared in a unique manner, the chromatic and tremolo qualities of the squeeze box can be enhanced when put in an improvised music setting.
Two of the most committed organic timbre farmers are Wuppertal, Germany-based Ute Völker and Jonas Kocher from Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. Both have collaborated with a variety of sympathetic players over the past few years. Krailling, Germany-based architect and multi-instrumentalist Udo Schindler partners Völker on Synopsis, creating seven in-the-moment explorations. They’re 100 per cent additive free, relying on the natural attributes of the button accordion and tones produced by Schindler’s clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and cornet to make their points. The equivalent of adding some natural olive oil and Aegean spices to Swiss muesli, meanwhile Kocher’s mini-CD mixes his accordion’s Alpine-like tremolos with sharp seasoning supplied by two Athens-based players: comic artist and clarinetist Ilan Manouach and violinist/composer Dimitris Papageorgiou.
Although it may be anathema to more restrictive musicians who sometimes treat abstract improv as if it’s blanched so-called health food; good for you but essentially tasteless, Völker’s and Schindler’s duo sounds are most palatable when they’ve most playful. On “Synopse 2” for instance the cries and stutters from the reedist’s horn(s) bond with the accordionist’s bouncy staccato lines for timbral affinity that’s jittery, jumping and judicious. Moving through sudden snarls and growls plus the gradual build-up of organ-like cadences from Völker and mid-range or contralto excursions from Schindler’s clarinet, create faint allusion to textures that could arise from baroque or electronic music on either side of the spectrum.
Like baristas constantly varying their ingredients to concoct a perfect brew, the duo reaches its climax of experimentation and satisfaction on the penultimate “Synopse 5” and “Synopse 6”. With the first dedicated to blending mouthpiece kisses and plunger cornet tones from Schindler’s cornet with undulating, but upwards moving calmness from Völker’s bellows, a glossy, mid-range infusion is distilled by the second track. An undulating compound, the second manages to mash strident reed shrills and the squeeze box tremolos that are unsettling and menacing into a respite that is joyously folkloric and sophisticatedly formal at the same time.
Moving from the pause-café that characterizes Synopsis to the Kocher/Manouach/Papageorgiou session, the addition of a string instrument brings additional dietary supplements forward. Considering though that the three tracks add up to about 21 minutes this mini-CD is more like a snack than a full fledged meal. With the shorter first and third tracks serving as appetizer and desert, the main course is plated on track 2, where healthy silent pauses pace the elaboration of the concentrated vibrations. Here and on the subsequent track the ideas is not so much to reach a designated point, but to merge translucent layers of sonic colors into a single narrative. To this end quacking reed tongue slaps, whining accordion pulses and segmented fiddle splices vanish and reappear with pinball game-like swiftness. Separating sound eruptions which often vanish as in an eyelid-like blink are pauses of various lengths as percussive vibrations heard distantly throughout produce a continuum. Although the parallel triple instrumental textures occasionally move upfront by the third track eventually merge into roller coaster-like tremolo conclusion, again the fascination is in the journey not the conclusion.
Each of these groups – and Völker and Kocher in particular – have created a niche for the traditional squeeze-box in the realm of pure improv. But as provocative as these discs may be, an archetype of how accordion tones can continue to evolve and innovate is still missing.
Track Listing: Synopsis: 1. Synopse 1 2. Synopse 2 3. Synopse 3 4. Synopse 4 5. Synopse 5 6. Synopse 6 7. Synopse 7
Personnel: Synopsis: Udo Schindler (clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and cornet) and Ute Völker (accordion)
Track Listing: Kocher 1. Untitled 1 2. Untitled 2 3. Untitled 3
Personnel: Kocher: Ilan Manouach (soprano saxophone); Dimitris Papageorgiou (violin) and Jonas Kocher (accordion)