In 2008 at Førde festival in Norway I witnessed a trio of brilliant accordionists, each an innovative performer and composer, and each different in style: Sweden-resident Serbian/Romanian Roma Lelo Nika, Bulgarian Petar Ralchev, and Norway-resident Serbian Jovan Pavlovic.
Since then Pavlovic has had many projects including his band Bengalo. Now comes his first entirely solo album.
He's previously played his piano-accordion in the standard Stradella-type set-up, which has piano keys for the right hand, and for the left a matrix of buttons each of which links reeds as a chord. But on most of this album he's switched his instrument to free-bass, in which the left-hand buttons play single notes, not chords. This means the notes skip and mingle from the two sides, rather than right-hand melody with left-hand chordal accompaniment.
"I decided to start working on it because of lots of free time during the pandemic," he told me. "Since I started playing with free bass, a whole new world has opened up for me. I can form chords as I like, I can play separate lines and rhythmical figures which live their own life and are totally independent from each other. It's like having two keyboards!"
All tracks except one are his own compositions. The opener, "Streamlet," begins with a Balkan-lyrical feel, the two sides interweaving, soon bringing in the extraordinarily deep bass that a big accordion is capable of, which is particularly striking because it uses single bass notes, not the thick chords of a normal accordion. The track has a middle section with something of a Parisian musette feel, before a return to the more Balkan mode.
"Limping Butterfly" reflects its title in asymmetric rhythms and a butterfly's ever-changing flutter-path. "Snow in May" involves a convoluted scamper of notes and, with a little assistance from a looper, the percussive effect of hitting the accordion's body or slapping the bellows. "Bzzz," where he switches the accordion back from free-bass to the normal left-hand chord system, picks up the insect angle in a dazzling, busy twisting flow of notes flying faster than the ear can resolve.
"Longing," with left and right hand lines intertwining, is as lyrically reflective as its title suggests. "Innernier" pops and leaps. The frothy Balkanism of "Macedonian Beer" transforms in its middle section to dark, slow lurking.
The only melody not of Pavlovic's own composition is an exploration, not simply a cover, of Sting's "Every Breath You Take." "To Chick" is a twisted kind of rag, "Ta-ga-di-gi-dam" features his vocal in the style of Indian tabla vocalisation, and "Goodnight Little Man" is an accordion lullaby to finish this unusual and thoughtful accordion album.
Find the artist online.