Asphalt Tango
CD-ATR 0504
artists website

The German Asphalt Tango label has picked a very clever name for itself. Asphalt Tango. Doesn't that combine the saucy eroticism of Argentine's seedy bordello dance with the raw spontaneity of dingy back alleys? It's high art getting down and dirty. This imagery also is very fitting for Motion Trio's debut, Pictures from the Street. That's a wild melange of three Polish concert accordion masters who threw chamber music, Jazz and Ethnic styles into a one-day recording session pot, all material they'd perfected for years in inner city street settings before the Polish Ministry of Culture discovered them. This discovery led to commissions from Pigini -- maker of the most expensive custom-made accordions according to band leader Janusz Wojtrarowicz -- whose master craftsmen fashioned three instruments, one keyboard accordion, two button accordions. Their range far exceeds what one customarily associates with accordions. The low version for the bass accompaniment becomes the bellows equivalent of the large plucked guitar that's used in Mexican rancheros music. The Motion Trio's three instruments were custom-tailored to the players and deliberately designed to be played together.

"Our idea is to take the accordion outside weddings, polkas and tangos and make it as serious as any other classical instrument, fit to play everything from contemporary classical music to folk or even avantgarde." Boisterous, vibrant and decidedly muscular is how this translates here, the latter trait a function of the bass accordion's juicy textures, its rhythmic lines occasionally reminiscent of the deft power of German oompah bands though odd-metered Romani beats throw off that tie-in. This group can sound like unhinged bagpipes, circus clowns rotating the handles of leierkasten or, most of all, like a miniature orchestra of unusual organs squeezing air. It's often dance-related chamber music whose folksy overtones are underpinned by conservatory-level articulation and technique yet never enter the Parisian musette milieu. Thematically, there are connections to the Dutch group Flairck and the kind of Circque de Soleil tunes that are accompanied by fantastically costumed creatures.

The harmless waltz of "Little Story" gains an entirely new dimension from the growling and farting, rattling and scraping accents of the bass accordion This same element turns the following "Tango" intro into a dance for elephants before timbres shift upscale and elegant, all aquiver, dainty and cajoling. The 9/8-based "It's O.K" invokes Balkan feelings while certain chord changes evoke Bach improvising on his organ before Jazzy syncopations suggest more swingin' Loussier than Johann Sebastian. It's all impossible to pin down but very juicy, music made with sizable machines from which the players coax a surprising array of unexpected sounds and effects.

"Scotsman" opens with a paean to the bagpipe, one accordion's timbre and playing style transformed into a Highland piper overlooking the foggy glens while the other two quetschkommoden maintain massive war drones below for the underpinning earth element. "Pageant"'s rollicking bass lines move substantial air before shifting into a stately tango, once again for oversized participants. Then things turn double-speed and two accordions exchange massive greetings -- think duel of the tubas -- before we segue back into a tangoesque romp. Did I mention that this formation won 1st prize in the Trio category and Grand Prix at the 4th Krzystof Penderecki Year 200 International Competiton of Contemporary Chamber music in Krakow?

"Aide Jano" clocks in at nearly eight minutes and opens as a melancholy blue-note minor-key lament only to turn into an elegiac Eastern European melody mightily suggestive of courtliness and hard-earned victory filled with a few tears. From blustery reeds and pumping bellows to filigreed embellishments and heaving pathos, the Motion Trio's Pictures from the Street is a very unique entry into contemporary concertized accordion music, by players who've earned their cred playing for coin between the Vienna Opera house and the famous Steppenplatz church or in a subway station in Rome.