Frode Haltli is an accordionist who has recorded more than a dozen albums for ECM and other labels since 2002, notably leading Garth Knox, Maja Ratkje and Arve Henriksen on the superb Passing Images (ECM, 2007). In 2012 he recorded the complete works for accordion by his fellow countryman Arne Nordheim (Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works, Simax Classics), and this album is a logical follow-up.
Vagabonde Blu comprises three pieces, one by Nordheim (1931-2010), and one apiece by Sicilian composers Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947) and Aldo Clementi (1925-2011). It was recorded in artist Emanuel Vigeland’s self-dedicated Oslo garden studio-cum-mausoleum, and Vigeland’s work has had a distinct impact on Haltli’s music.
As Haltli describes it: “When your eyes get used to the darkness, you can see the fantastic and grotesque fresco of life that covers the walls and ceiling in the vast, cold room (in which) massive acoustics produce a long and lively delay covering the entire register of sounds. As a result it is nearly impossible to conduct a normal conversation. Here the room is such an active partner that it changes my music and my playing radically. … It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a sound is coming from the instrument, the echo, a combination of the two, or a member of the audience who accidentally touched his jacket.”
The first piece on the album, Sciarrino’s “Vagabonde Blu“ plays most on the mausoleum’s acoustics. Haltli describes it as “a close study of tiny air and noise sounds, of notes, chords and glissandi in pianissimo.” He also notes how: “The perspective of infinity that is inherent in the music is heightened by the long, lingering echo in the mausoleum.”
The accordion is most readily identifiable in a series of chords that Haltli plays in variations at regular intervals, alongside a parallel rustle of keys and bellows. As they billow in the enclosed stillness, you can hear how Haltli judges these pulses, and modulates the bloom of their sustain. But not all of the sounds seemingly reflected back from the depths can be so easily mapped to the accordion. Some accordion-body raps and key soundings return like the sound of bats suddenly flocking from a dark nocturnal roost. Other detonations are heard as massive impacts in subterranean depths, tectonic rumbles which, at their most irruptive, trigger detonations of fluttering, fluting agitation in the accordion’s higher registers, before subsiding in sighs like whale’s exhalations.
Just as the recording environment magnifies the grain of “Vagabonde Blu”, it serves to tap latent tensions in Nordheim’s well-titled “Flashing”. Haltli recorded this piece before for Nordheim: Complete Accordion Works, but in this new recording, he says, Vigeland’s mausoleum: “Recast the accordion as the source of a universe of frequencies that are flung back and forth, encircling one another sonorously”. The apparent instability and sporadic violence of the piece makes for an edgily engaging listen.
At first the accordion is played ‘straight’, but at 2:30 it surges in quasi-electronic low notes, vibrating like a foghorn, and by 5:00 Haltli is using the room’s acoustic amplitude to sound it like a church organ. These blooms of fat sound contrast with upper-register note clusters that leave individual embers shimmering in silence. The second half of the piece is busier and more overtly musically expressive. Echoes here (both literal and figurative, though probably not intentional) of Astor Piazzolla’s “Fugata”.
Haltli informs us that Clementi intended “Ein Kleines…” to be played “like a lullaby. Simple, two-voiced variations of a modal theme, repeated again and again, while the dynamics and tempo are gradually reduced.” After the spatial drama of the preceding performances, it is indeed lulling, soothing and restorative; eighteen minutes of balm for any listener rendered aurally hyper-sensitive by what’s gone before. Like a campfire, it warms and illuminates the darkness with soft light, casting the “fantastic and grotesque” into the shadows.
Haltli’s selection of music here is immaculate. He’s created something far richer, more remarkable and inimitable than an album of accordion repetoir music.
Frode Haltli accordion.
1982 – A/B + Moskus – Mestertyven + Håkon Stene – Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal.
1982 – Pintura + Erland Dahlen – Rolling Bomber + Tore Brunborg/Kirsti Huke – Scent of Soil.
Trygve Seim & Frode Haltli – Yeraz (reviewed in 2008 for The Jazz Mann).
Quotes sourced from frodehaltli.com.
Buy Vagabonde Blu direct from Hubro.