Tref / Accordion Samurai
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Accordion Samurai

Dampf (

The very idea of listening to a quintet of five accordionists may seem daunting to some but it isn’t a new concept. In mid-twentieth century England there were a number of accordion orchestras making the rounds. In recent years several groups have served as a model of sorts for Accordion Samurai. The Motion Trio from Poland is one that comes to mind but Accordion Tribe, which consisted of five well-known and innovative players from five different countries, is the ensemble that has the most in common with the Samurai. Like the latter group, Accordion Samurai is an international quintet, but two differences stand out. These veteran musicians play diatonic squeezeboxes, and they are more rooted in traditional music.

"Le Grand Cèdre"
The choice of an ancient but universally familiar moniker such as “samurai” was apt. As with actual samurais these players have all served a similar cause in their own way. They’ve each been devoted to their instrument for several decades while retaining something of an iconoclastic spirit. The fact that the musicians - Riccardo Tesi from Italy (Ritmia, Trans Europe Diatonique, Banditaliana), Markku Lepistö from Finland (Värttinä), David Munelly from Ireland (Niamh Parsons, The Chieftains, David Munelly Band), Bruno Le Tron (from France), and Didier Laloy (Belgium’s foremost accordion player) - have different cultural backgrounds forces them to find common ground while being bold and inventive in their approach.

Each musician contributes one or two compositions and several others are drawn from the Irish, French, and Finnish traditional repertoires but the soloists aren’t credited. This was ostensibly done to emphasize the collective effort but one can usually identify the main player based on the writing credits. The tunes draw from a variety of rhythms and genres such as the reel, the waltz, the tango, the bourrée, and possibly even film music. Le Tron’s “Le Grand Cèdre” makes use of the instrument’s percussive qualities while David Munally creates another kind of percussive effect by allowing the clacking of the buttons to contribute to the music. Some of the tracks build to a crescendo by having several players pumping away at full force. The album recently won the “Grand Prix International du Disque 2011” in the «Musiques du Monde» category, a prestigious award given by the Académie Charles Cros.

Bruno Le Tron and Didier Laloy have also played with a various other groups. Le Tron, for example, has played with Mandragore and Vertigo while Laloy is also half of a duo with trilingual singer-songwriter Milann, the son of well-known Belgian singer Philippe Lafontaine. In fact, a Milann & Laloy album called Rozz has also recently been released on the Homerecords label.

Laloy and Le Tron are also part of a quartet called Tref, the other two members being Wim Claeys of the highly acclaimed Ambrozijn (also on diatonic accordion) and Fred Malempré (drums, percussion). If Accordion Samurai had been released on vinyl Tref could easily serve as the album’s flip side. Tref, the word apparently referring to a get-together of individuals, has been together since the late 1990s but Dampf is only the group’s third album, the other two dating from 2001 and 2005.

The word “dampf” refers to a gas that’s still in contact with its liquid or solid phase and that’s a good, albeit abstract, metaphor for the group’s sound. Unlike Samurai, none of the tunes are drawn from the traditional repertoire although some of the tracks do reveal Scandinavian influences. Laloy, Le Tron, and Claeys each contribute four original compostions and two others are co-writes. One of the qualities that distinguishes Tref from Samurai, besides the fact that Tref, with merely three squeezeboxes, sounds slightly less dense, is percussionist Malempré. His inventiveness is impressive enough to make him an integral part of the group’s sound. The selections, half of which are given French titles, don’t really provide much of a clue as to the sound, except possibly for a few exceptions such as “Plasko O Polska” and “Latina.” The tempo on some of the tracks are often shifting, the melodies sometimes elusive. The ostinato sound of “Tour” serves as a kind of refrain, one that’s evocative of Phillip Glass’s soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi, but while waiting to return to that recurring theme the group goes off in other directions.

Both Samurai and Tref are impressive accordion groups that explore the limits of the instrument through unusual sounds that hint at jazz, traditional, and rock rhythms while making room for occasional dabs of humor. Fans of the squeezebox with an adventurous bent will undoubtedly want both albums. Others might want to start with one or the other. - Paul-Emile Comeau

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Accordion Samurai

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