by Piotr Michalowski
In the popular culture that dominates our times, accordionists have to fight for their dignity, countering dull stereotypes. And perhaps because they get no respect, a small number of them have been making an unusually striking impact on contemporary music, bringing about a renaissance of the instrument. From zydeco to tango, jazz, and even symphonic music, artists with strong personalities are utilizing various squeeze boxes in ingenious ways. In a new world in which rock is no longer just guitars, jazz is no longer simply about trumpets and saxophones, and the very genres all blend, every instrument gets its due, and accordionists have hit back with a vengeance. There are even all-accordion bands such as Accordion Tribe and Motion Trio.
Sweden's Lars Hollmer is one of the most original members of this new tribe. He began his musical activities playing rock with friends in his hometown of Uppsala. Now known primarily for his accordion, he also plays the piano, melodica, and various other instruments. What has made him stand out from the beginning, however, is his compositional and conceptual ability; as with Astor Piazzolla, to whom he has sometimes been superficially compared, his instrumental work and compositional work are inseparable. As everyone who has ever written about him notes, the main characteristic of his art is that it defies all attempts at facile classification. I must admit that until recently I knew little about his work, but having listened in a short time to a selection of his impressively large discography, I can only concur.
If I had to choose one word to describe Hollmer's music, it would be kaleidoscopic. Rock rhythms, various European, South American, and Asian folklike refrains, jazz riffs, nineteenth- and twentieth-century symphonic strains, and schmaltzy Swedish pop swirl by. The word eclectic does not do this justice; he is more what the French call a bricoleur, a melder of bric-a-brac. His music is just like the famed Chicken House in which
works, a place that looks like a well-maintained junk store. What makes this all work is Hollmer's strong sense of musical form. He is, above all, a disciplined composer, and his work is constantly changing, as he seeks out new collaborators in his native Sweden, in Canada, or in Japan.
Hollmer is well known in the rest of the world but has never been properly appreciated in this country. For his first major U.S. appearance, he has prepared compositions for a unique ten-piece group: Lars Hollmer's Ann Arbor Global Home Project. The core is made up of some of this city's finest musicians: saxophonist and clarinetist Andrew Bishop, violinist Gabe Bolkosky, cellist Katri Ervamaa, guitarist Ryan Mackstaller (now transplanted to Brooklyn), pianist Steve Rush, and drummer Alex Trajano. Added to this is a trio of well-known players from Quebec: saxophonist and flutist Jean Derome, bassist Normand Guilbeault, and percussionist Pierre Tanguay. Hollmer will lead all of this, singing and playing keyboards, the melodica, and, of course, the accordion. This international collaboration, on Saturday, October 14, at Kerrytown Concert House, is one of the more quirky and fascinating events of the tenth anniversary edition of Edgefest.
[Review published October 2006]