Another sweep of Norwegian delights
Jovan PAVLOVIC: Life On Accordion – VIR 001 – 2022 ; ****½
Way back in 2017 Norwegian accordionist Jovan Pavlovic released a recording called Refleks, reviewed enthusiastically on this site. https://www.audaud.com/jovan-pavlovic-trio-refleks-ora-fonogram/
A large ensemble, led by Pavlovic, romped through seven original tunes with a chamber ensemble that veered between theater, jazz and classical idioms. Given the razor sharp precision shown by the group, it was a surprise to hear a live audience in the background. A lot has happened since then; musicians have been hard pressed as had our fragile world and communities, nations. It is not surprising then to see the leader reappear without his musical entourage. In this 2022 release, he has chosen 12 tunes of his own to explore what a solo accordion can do. If the previous recording was all bonhomie and suitable for the pub or recital hall, this one seems aimed at an audience of one. It is intimate, searching and exposed. Again his playing is shorn of licks and cliches. There are moments of reticence but never of bluster. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some uptempo numbers and rhythmic propulsion. A song called Innernier, has a tricky rhythm and exploits the pop and snap capabilities of the instrument as well as light glissandi and growls. There are other moments of extroversion such as Macedonian Beer which by the evidence here is a jolly good beverage.
Some of the best moments though are founded on the performers’ consummate skills at polyphony. Two voices, knit together with the sort of counterpoint practiced by 17th century German organists. To Chick shows this at a high level. Seriousness is undercut with all manner of sassy licks, sudden unisons, Monkish dissonances and other jazzy touches.
For the musicians in the crowd, have a go at figuring out the time signature to Limping Butterfly. And yet it is solidly based on a folk music feeling. The difference being a certain restlessness and unwillingness to get stuck in a groove.
A standard pop tune Every Breath You Take (Sting) is a bit of a surprise. Happily the song is chastened with a sober undertone, the left hand subtracting some of the melody’s sweetness.
If there is one absolute standout track it is the third Snow in May. Here Mr Pavlovic rises to dramatic utterance; 4 minutes of absolute musical beauty. All the idiosyncrasies of the instrument fall away and it becomes pure music , uniquely joyful and utterly surprising. It ends with a great clatter of percussive clacks that sound like cloggers who refuse to stop at the end of the song.
The final Good Night Little Man is equal to its grand subject. Part lullaby and bitter-sweet reflection on how beautiful and serious it is to care for another creature, perhaps dragging himself to bed but certainly facing an unknown future.
All in all, this is an outstanding album by a great voice in Nordic folk/jazz, yet another great recording to come out of Trondheim, a Mecca of new music. It would be a pity for accordionists to miss this one, but I think it will be a rewarding find for someone like this reviewer who doesn’t even have a single solo accordion recording in a large collection of music.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the sound has really been nicely dialed in. For those who fear being trapped in a small room with an accordion and just one small window, no worries. There is a nice warm space around the instrument, lots of room to breathe, and Jovan Pavlovic is outstanding company.
The musicians web page can be found here: https://www.jovanpavlovic.com/