Anders Lillebo Departure
Just For The Records
Review by Lee Blackstone
Musical cross-pollination is complex. Musicians may suddenly be turned on to sounds that divert their music down new paths. For Norwegian piano accordionist Anders Lillebo, the exposure to Irish music at a folk festival in Ireland spawned an obsession. Lillebo had been studying in the hopes of becoming a jazz pianist; the leap to the Irish piano accordion seemed fateful.
By moving to Ireland, Lillebo was able to immerse himself in the Irish music scene. As a result, Lillebo worked with a superb selection of Irish musicians. Lillebo is joined by Caoimhín O Fearghail (guitar); Tommy Hayes (percussion); Matthew Berrill (clarinet and bass clarinet); and Jack Talty (piano), a master concertina player who also served production duties on the recording. Esbjörn Hazelius guests on fiddle and cittern. All the tunes are traditional except for 'Liam & Diana's Waltz,' and 'Vråka,'the latter named for a place on the western coast of Sweden.
The resulting album shines with Lillebo's assured playing. Perhaps his jazz background has gifted him with an ability to feel his way within a tune; nothing is rushed, and Lillebo's phrasing is distinct. There is a calmness to the various jigs, reels, and hornpipes that wears well.
"Wing Commander Donald McKenzie's"
Talty, whose approach to traditional Irish traditional music does not shy away from modernism, provides the tunes with breathing room. There is a purity that is hard to deny on Departure, and yet, new gestures emerge. For example, on the closing 'Cuz Tehan's/Wing Commander Donald McKenzie's' set (a fling and reel), the sound of Berrill's clarinet ghosts into the background, a lovely touch that lifts the tune further. Another highlight is the stately tribute to 'Vråka,' which finds Lillebo playing opposite Hazelius' cittern. While this original tune nods towards the Irish tradition, it feels more akin to a Nordic meditative tone poem.
I find myself continuously drawn, though, to the reel 'Palmer's Gate.' Throughout the album, Lillebo's accordion takes on bell-like tones. On 'Palmer's Gate,' the effect is striking. O Fearghail, Hayes, and Talty provide accompaniment, and the tune is given additional depth by Lillebo's introducing chords played on the organ. Against that backdrop, the piano accordion especially shines, and the whole piece is rendered emotional and nostalgic.
As a first solo outing, this work is steeped in reverence for Irish music, yet varied enough to maintain the listener's interest in an entire album showcasing the piano accordion. More so, Departure beautifully documents Lillebo's journeys to the frontiers of the tradition. – Lee Blackstone