various artists,
Masters of the Accordion
(ARC, 2003)

To some, it is the king of musical instruments. To others, it is the predictable punch line of a thousand jokes. Some associate it with glamorous European cafes and the seductive tango. Others see it as the ultimate emblem of uncool music, the kind their parents and grandparents like.

I speak, of course, of the accordion. When one sets the accordion's iconic identity aside, one realizes that like any musical instrument, the accordion's identity is about what a given musician does with it. This compilation shows that the accordion's range of roles is unlimited. Much of the music on this disc is traditional but it stretches the boundaries, particularly in the department of virtuoso technique. Accordion fans will be confirmed in their regard for this instrument, while those who think it's only about polkas will get a shock.

Masters of the Accordion ranges over the world in its quest for great accordion pieces, although there is a heavy emphasis on European musicians. All 13 cuts have been previously released, but only the most passionate fan is likely to have all this music. The artists who appear on this compilation are Mohsen Allaam (Egypt), Vitaly V. Bezrodnov (Russia), Renato Borghetti (Brazil), Hugo Diaz (Argentina), Maria Kalaniemi (Finland), Maidhc Dainin O Se (Ireland), Milen Slavov (Bulgaria), Daniel Thonon (Canada), Roberto Tombesi (Italy), Enrique Ugarte (Spain), Niall Vallely (Ireland) and Milan Zavkov (Macedonia). For some reason, Ugarte gets two tracks when none of the others do (one of his cuts is a show-stopping solo rendition of Ravel's "Bolero" that closes the album).

The title word "Masters" is rather appropriate since Kalaniemi is the only woman accordionist here. Any fan of the instrument will doubtless bemoan particular favorites that have been left off; I would've liked pieces from Guy Klucevsek and Pauline Oliveros, even if they're considered more avant-garde than most of the musicians included.

This is a terrific album. Even confirmed fans of the accordion are likely to have their ears opened to some extremely skilled musicians they may not have encountered before. Intricate fingering, speedy playing and complex compositions are par for the course. The accordion's plaintive side is on show as well. The unbelievable range of moods conjured up by these pieces will go a long way toward proving that the accordion bows to no instrument in conveying depth of emotion. Part of the range is due to the different types of accordions that are used; the bandoneon, Egyptian quarter-tone accordion, bayan, concertina, piano and button accordions all appear. Both diatonic and chromatic accordions are represented.

The complete liner notes are given in English, French, German and Spanish, as usual for ARC's albums. Every musician gets a capsule biography and the original source of each track is given. With a running length of just under 56 minutes, it seems that a few more selections could have been squeezed onto the CD, but the music included is uniformly top-notch. If you are an accordion fan, you will find many pleasures with Masters of the Accordion; if not, it will probably explode some musical cliches.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 1 May 2004

Buy it from