In the 1940s Art van Damme swung sweetly on the accordion with cover pictures of beautiful girls sipping cocktails.
Then, in the 1950s, the ebullient Angelo DiPippo introduced the instrument to hipsters at the Newport jazz festival before going on to play in the wedding sequence of the first Godfather
In more recent times Frenchman Richard Galliano gave the accordion serious jazz credentials. But, condemned by the quintessentially folksy
sound less gifted practitioners extract from it, the "squeezebox" remained very much a fringe instrument.
A young Portuguese accordionist, Joao Barradas, hopes to change this. He wrote nearly all the material for his first two albums for the Lisbon-based record label Nischo, including the portentously titled "The Human Journey In Search Of Meaning."
Concerning which, Umberto Eco once said: "I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth." Something Senhor Barradas might do well to bear in mind in future. Directions Nischo
Unprepared listenersas was the case with this reviewermay think their stereo equipment is on the blink when confronted by the first track, "Expressive Idea."
It features a discussion about music between Wayne Shorter
and Joe Lovano
, with Barradas attempting to match the sounds of their voices on his accordion.
The track features American avant-garde saxophonist Greg Osby, who also produced the album. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is a total waste of space.
Osby is featured on two other tracks on the disk, originally released in the U.S. on his own Inner Circle Music label. "Unknown Identity" and "Ignorance" are interesting on first hearing as angular experimental pieces but rapidly pall.
The Portuguese singer Sara Serpa contributes a few self-effacing scat choruses on "Amalgamat Outro" and veteran American pioneer accordionist Gil Goldstein crops up with his own composition, "Tiling The Plane," the only number not penned by the leader.
The trouble with this album is that Barradas, in trying so hard and self-consciously to escape the limitations of his instrument, fails to pay his musical dues and to coin another cliché ends up trying to run before he can walk.
Still, at least he tries... and that's worth something. HomeAn End As A New Beginning Nischo
The second album, with its colourful, more lively red décor, is a big improvement. With it comes a DVD of Barradas playing in the beautiful setting of Lisbon's Calouste-Gulbenkian Foundation, as part of a sextet of young musicians, in whose hands may well rest the future of Mediterranean jazz.
With his tousled hair and ready smile, young Senhor B comes across as far more human and approachable than the dour image projected in the black and white setting of "Directions."
The songs are better structured, more melodic, with some sterling work by guitarist Mane Fernandes, most notably on the opening track "Aurora."
Eduardo Cardinho contributes some nicely restrained vibraphone, particularly on the enigmatically titled "I'm Going Away For A While, Don't Try And Follow Me."
Concerning the structure of Barradas' songs, there's a slight problem with repetitive riffs. There's one on "Homesick" that seems in danger of going on forever before finally giving up and going to bed like a good boy.
A similar situation arises on "An End As A New Beginning" but perhapsbearing in mind the titlethat's deliberate, an attempt at teaching granny how to suck eggs.
In closing, it's worth noting the fine ensemble work on "Openings and Closings" and to congratulate Joao Barradas and wish him well on his own journey in search of meaning, while hoping he won't be too disappointed if he finds out there ain't any.
Tracks and Personnel Directions
Tracks: Expressive Idea; Letter To Mother's Immersion; Varazdin's Landscape; Unknown Identity; Amalgamat; Amalgamat Outro; Tiling The Plane; The Red Badge Of Courage; Manners Of Normality; Homeric Hymn; Ignorance.
Personnel: Joao Barradas, Gil Goldstein: accordion; Greg Osby: saxophone; André Fernandes: guitar; Sara Serpa: vocals. HomeAn End As A New Beginning
Tracks: Aurora; The Human Journey In Search Of Meaning; Interlude II; I'm Going Away For A While, Don't Try And Follow Me; Homesick; Openings And Closings; An End As A New Beginning; Between Myself And I. DVD: The Human Journey In Search Of Meaning; Interlude II; I'm Going Away For A While, Don't Try And Follow Me; Homesick; An End As A New Beginning; Interlude III.
Personnel: Joao Barradas: accordion, midi-accordion; Eduardo Cardinho: vibraphone; Mané Fernandes, Concalo Neto: guitar; Ricardo Marques: bass; Guilherme Melo: drums.