Accordion Tribe: Lars Hollmer (accordion, melodica, harmonium); Maria Kalaniemi, Otto Lechner, Bratko Bibic (accordion); Guy Klucevsek (melodica).
Audio Mixer: Lars Hollmer.
Recording information: The Chicken House, Uppsala, Sweden (11/2005).
Editor: Lars Hollmer.
Illustrator: Pelle Engman.
The inside-cover photo montage of the members of Accordion Tribe shows three of the accordionists, Bratko Bibic, Lars Hollmer, and Otto Lechner, with facial expressions suggesting a trio of Scandinavian metal badasses, while Guy Klucevsek's expression reflects the countenance of a kindly, warm, and loving granddad who just might let his grandson's Scandinavian metal band practice in his basement. Tribeswoman Maria Kalaniemi projects straightforward confidence and self-assurance, as if she knows her accordion playing could share the studio or stage with anyone and emerge triumphant. Of course, Accordion Tribe are about as far from metal as one can get, but there's no harm in projecting a bit of heavy attitude, even with tongue in cheek, when there is so much heavy talent in the house. And this tribe is an accordionist supergroup indeed, although the sharing of warmth and beauty is on the agenda rather than the type of pretension that the word "supergroup" usually entails. As with Accordion Tribe's previous two CDs, all five members of the group contributed material to Lunghorn Twist, recorded at Hollmer's Chickenhouse studio in November 2005. And like the Tribe's second CD, 2003's Sea of Reeds, the studio sessions give Lunghorn Twist a stronger sense of cohesiveness than the band's 1998 nonetheless fine debut disc, which had been recorded live on tour in a variety of locations. Accordion Tribe are both traditionalists and progressives, and see no contradictions between the two. Still, on Lunghorn Twist some emerge as more traditional than others -- with the three heaviest-looking dudes in the photo drawing most strongly from the rhythms, harmonies, and melodies the listener is likely to equate with European folk accordion music, although a multi-sectioned composition such as Bibic's "Encore Deux W" is likely to segue into a brief jazzlike interlude after beginning closer to polka or circus territory.
The first several tracks here feature duo or trio groupings, and Kalaniemi's "Heimo" is the first number to feature all five of the Tribe -- the effect is stunning, with Accordion Tribe suddenly revealing themselves as a full-fledged accordion/melodica orchestra. Of course, a quintet is far from an orchestra, but when you consider all those fingers on keys and buttons playing a modernist piece that takes advantage of the accordion's full range of sonorities (short of extended techniques, that is), to describe the music as at least having "symphonic" attributes would not be an exaggeration. "Heimo" is filled with wonderful dynamic shifts from the delicate opening theme with its intricate counterpoint and ostinatos to a driving unison chordal section and vamps that underpin exuberant soloing (including over-the-top wordless vocals from Bibic). Kalaniemi's piece is a CD highlight, as is her personalized take on the traditional "Tuudittele" later in the disc; a slow and floating lament with a Celtic-sounding bridge, "Tuudittele" couldn't be more different than the propulsive "Heimo," but it is no less striking. Kalaniemi's beautiful vocal rises above the extended shimmering drone of her accordion (joined by Lechner) in a way that puts the "real" back in "ethereal." Meanwhile, Klucevsek offers up several compositions that also push the Tribe in a modernist direction while remaining grounded in tradition: the witty "Fez Up," for the full quintet, tips toward Middle Eastern modes but in its various transitions is structured like a modern chamber piece briskly unfolding in scarcely more than three and a half minutes. Likewise Klucevsek's "The Return of Lasse," one presumes a reference to Hollmer (where was he?), a piece for the virtuosic pairing of the composer and Kalaniemi that tips back and forth across the musical divide between East and West as if the worlds of Asia Minor and Europe had always danced together in perfect harmony. As for Hollmer, he emerges -- as always -- as Accordion Tribe's Nino Rota, delving into his extensive catalog and revisiting tunes that should rightfully be deemed classics: "Quickstep Tribal," "N†t Nr. 7," and the slow and bittersweet closing "Soonsong" all reveal new facets that demonstrate why Lasse's compositions will endure, regardless of who plays them. Maybe even a Scandinavian metal band. ~ Dave Lynch