Richard Galliano's Tangaria

Bath International Festival 2011


When Cyrial Demian, a musician of Armenian descent, patented the first accordion in Vienna in 1829 he couldn’t possibly have known that he was creating a musical phenomenon that would quickly flourish throughout the world.


In these days of YouTube when someone can become an international sensation within hours of posting a video on the internet, the growth in popularity of the accordion and its family of free reed instruments, the melodeon, concertina, bandoneon et al, may not seem such a big deal.


But by the middle of the nineteenth century, the poor man’s piano, as the accordion became known, had become central to traditions as far apart as Great Britain and Brazil, Eastern Europe and China. Presently it would be driving the dancing feet in Tex-Mex roadhouses and Louisiana’s Cajun dance halls as well as lending expression behind the singers of Mediterranean love songs, and its cousin, the bandoneon, would be the instrument that brought out the soul in the tango music that was born among immigrant workers in Buenos Aires.


There is, of course, conjecture as to whether Demian had made the first accordion and whether it begat the other free reed instruments or they were developed in isolation – the roots of free reed instruments can actually be traced back to Asia five thousand years before Demian had his brainwave. What isn’t in dispute, however, is these instruments’ ability to bring musicians together across oceans and continents, and the relationship that is central to Richard Galliano’s Tangaria is a case in point.


The son of an Italian-born accordion teacher, Galliano began playing the instrument at home in Cannes at the age of four and showed such promise that he was enrolled at Nice Conservatory. Here, as well as training in the accordion and studying harmony, counterpoint and trombone, he happened across the music of jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown at the age of fourteen. Struck by Brown’s ability to improvise variations on an original theme, the teenager began his own experiments and research into this exciting new music and was surprised to discover that the accordion’s significance in jazz was miniscule.


Finding only three examples of accordionists playing jazz – Tommy Gumina, Ernie Felice and Art Van Damme – he resolved to add himself to this modest list and make his instrument as worthy of a place at the heart of jazz as the trumpet, saxophone and piano. He turned his back entirely on the traditional style of accordion playing that dominated in France, listening instead to Brazilian masters Sivuca and Dominguinhos and the Italians Fugazza, Volpi and Fancelli and working some of their expressiveness into the swinging rhythms of jazz.


Moving to Paris in 1973, Galliano found a ready market for his style of playing in pop music sessions for singers including Charles Aznavour and Juliette Gréco and in film soundtrack work. In Paris he was also able to play much more regularly with jazz musicians and he mixed with players including trumpeter Chet Baker, guitarist Jimmy Gourley and harmonica master Toots Thielemanns


In 1983, while working on incidental music for Comédie Française, Galliano met Astor Piazzolla and a special friendship was born. Piazzolla, a master of the bandoneon and the inventor of nuevo tango, which incorporated elements of jazz such as improvisation and extended harmonies and dissonance into the traditional tango style, advised Galliano to go back to his roots to find his true musical personality. So Galliano began once again to play the valses, javas, complaintes and tangos that he had discarded and by introducing a whole new rhythmic concept and harmonic style, he managed to rid the accordion of its old fashioned image.


This new approach was announced on the album New Musette, recorded with drummer Aldo Romano, bassist Pierre Michelot and guitarist Philip Catherine, which won the Académie du Jazz's Django Reinhardt Prize for French Musician of the Year in 1993.


Since then, Galliano has continued to expand the accordion’s range of expression in jazz, working with bassist Charlie Haden, vibraphonist Gary Burton, trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Enrico Rava and Paolo Fresu, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Martial Solal and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, as well as featuring alongside Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal and oud player Anouar Brahem.


He continues to honour his friendship with Piazzolla and to champion his late friend and mentor’s music, and Tangaria, his group with bassist Philippe Aerts, violinist Alexis Cardenas and percussionist Raphael Meijas, features pieces by Piazzolla alongside music that Galliano has conceived as a result of following Piazzolla’s advice – as one free reed instrument master to another.


The accordion also found its way into the Funaná music of Cape Verde, the island community in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Senegal, where Carmen Souza’s family originated. There’s no accordion in Ms Souza’s band but the feeling of saudade – deeply felt longing – is something that her music shares with Richard Galliano’s alongside a strong jazz influence.


Born in Lisbon, Ms Souza grew up surrounded by the Cape Verdean way of life, hearing both the Cape Verdean Creole and Portuguese languages at home. She began singing professionally in a gospel choir at the age of seventeen and then worked in funk, soul, world music and jazz projects, contributing her own songs as well as her distinctive, hugely expressive vocal sound.


In 2003 she and producer-bass player Theo Pascal began working on music that would bring together all her influences, including Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Diana Krall, with the sounds of Cape Verde to create a contemporary style with strong historical roots.


The resulting album, Ess ê nha Cabo Verde, and its successor, Verdade, have become international airplay hits and Ms Souza has captivated audiences from Toronto to South Korea. Prepare to be her latest conquest.


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