CD REVIEW: Michael Wollny & Vincent Peirani -Tandem

Michael Wollny & Vincent Peirani - Tandem
(ACT 9825-2. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

German pianist Michael Wollny and French accordionist Vincent Peirani bring jazz, classical, folk and improvised music together in this fine recording- their first as a duo. ‘We prepared and arranged some of the pieces with great care, whereas we left others very free and completely open to the spontaneous ideas,’ says Wollny: their response to each other is so intuitive, it’s not always easy to tell which is which.

They open with Song Yet Untitled, by Swiss singer Andreas Schaerer; the accordion’s deep portentous chords sound like an organ behind the wandering piano arpeggios. The surface is glassy and the slow chords almost rocky. The pensive melody resonates, like the theme tune to a movie in your mind. Wollny grew up loving Schubert and Romantic music, and Peirani learned classical music by transcribing it for accordion; both have a wide repertoire of ideas to draw on in their version of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It’s culled to a couple of harmonised lines, sonorous and tautly emotive. It moves into a Steve Reich-like section with fast, intricate chords that repeat ecstatically before falling back to the main theme. Time expands and contracts, but it’s all over in a few minutes. Hunter turns Björk’s electro-pop into dark thrummed strings, as high piano notes drip onto the strong accordion groove: part flamenco, part Ravel’s Bolero. Wollny’s solo has rhythmic hints of Corea, with abstract shapes and huge crashing chords. He scratches and dampens the piano strings in almost menacing flourishes.

Wollny and Peirani’s original tunes are at the core of the CD; you can hear their strong musical personalities pulling together and against each other. Wollny’s Bells has long atonal lines that chase each other like snowflakes in a blizzard- the album was recorded in the snow in Bavaria’s Schloss Elmau. It recalls the frenzy of one of his Hexentanz (‘witch dance’) pieces. It slips into swing, piano and accordion throwing boppy phrases to each other. In total contrast, Peirani’s mysteriously-named Did You Say Rotenberg? wrings strong feeling from a folk-edged three note minor motif, as the harmonies unwrap. Peirani toured with an Eastern European band, and there’s something of the Balkans in his colourful solo. Wollny adds jazzier harmonies, recalling Joachim Kühn in his angular solo. The two move in and out of phase with each other then come together like waves. Wollny’s Sirènes lures the listener in with a melodic riffs, dropping piano notes in unexpected places: they create lopsided timings and harmonies, changing colours over a still scene. Each instrument has a solo section, thoughtful and deeply Romantic. In Peirani’s Uniskate, Wollny strums the piano strings like a harp or dulcimer behind the bright accordion melody, played with a sense of nostalgic yearning. The piano bass lines seem to hold back the time then push it forward. For a few bars, Peirani’s chords (almost swing) pull hard against Wollny’s flowing arpeggios, as if they might break loose from each other. The rhythmic tension is astounding, heightening the emotion of the piece.

Gary Peacock’s Vignette has an intense treatment, a dark tango intensified by Peirani’s growling trills on the accordion: his blurred, fluttering sounds add a sense of mystery to the melody. Wollny’s solo is warm and expressive, echoing Peirani’s trills. When the piano melody returns, with high wistful accordion (accordina?) counter melodies, it’s especially beautiful. (As well as button accordion, Peirani plays accordina on the album- a kind of metal melodica- though it’s not easy to hear when.) Sufjan Stevens’ Fourth of July is slowed down, with rich textures filling the simple, tolling chords. This was recorded live at a concert following rehearsals at Schloss Elmau, as was Travesuras (written by Tomás Gubitsch, and Argentinian-born friend of Peirani.) Travesuras has an Hermeto Pascoal-like wild irreverence in its tango-influenced grooves; a slow central section heightens the fierce playfulness of Peirani’s solo working together with Wollny’s powerful grooves. Tucked away at the end of the track is a hidden song, unnamed. It’s Judee Sill’s The Kiss, with its classical cadences and plaintive melody: as gentle as a Brahms lullaby with harmonic twists to draw you in.

This is the kind of album it’s hard to write about: the two are such instinctive and accomplished musicians, that you want to simply absorb yourself in the music, and share their ideas and moods. ‘My speciality is that I’m not a specialist,’ Peirani has said. ‘I’m always curious about music and I try to play music in my way. I don’t care about the style. There is no borderline.’

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