Accordion and classical guitar: it’s an unusual combination but it seems to work for the guitarist Jason Vieaux and the accordionist and bandoneón player Julien Labro.
The two musicians – both of whom were classically trained but have also branched to some unusual places in their careers – came to the WQXR Café to offer a taste of their hybrid collaboration.
Almost indefinable in terms of style, their selections include elements of Brazilian samba, Argentinean tango and jazz-fusion, the latter of which can be found on Pat Metheny’s “Antonia” (watch below, with Labro playing the small Accordina).
What is this seemingly unlikely duo doing together? Vieaux, whose repertoire typically straddles Spanish composers and J.S. Bach, tells Jeff Spurgeon that he heard Labro performing with the Hot Club of Detroit, a gypsy swing band, and admired his improv skills.
The guitarist approached the accordion player backstage after one show and asked him if he'd like to collaborate on the Piazzolla Double Concerto for Guitar and Bandoneón. "The way he shaped solos,” said Vieaux, “they had a really great narrative.”
“As soon as he said 'Piazzolla,' I said 'great,'” said Labro. “It will force me to get deeper into the bandoneón.” The bandoneón is loosely related to the accordion, having started in Germany as a poor man's church organ before immigrants brought it to Argentina, where it took hold in tango music.
The two musicians put together a chamber arrangement of the Piazzolla Concerto, which they debuted with the Linden String Quartet in Cleveland two years ago.
Labro was born and raised near Toulouse, France and attended the Marseille Conservatory during high school. Looking to expand his jazz knowledge, he moved to the U.S. and began studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, eventually receiving Masters degrees in both jazz and composition. He’s built a versatile career as a jazz performer, arranger and occasional soloist with orchestra.
Still, Labro admits, “people see my instrument and think, ‘oh man, here’s a polka dude coming up.’ I have to watch out for that.”
Vieaux, an intense, perfectionist personality who runs the Curtis Institute of Music’s guitar department, admits that he battled similar misconceptions during his own upbringing. As a teenager, he spent his time not “shredding” in garage rock bands but learning the Giuliani Grand Overture for the school talent show. “It took me a long time to realize that the classical guitar could function to attract women,” he conceded.
Labro and Vieaux have given only a handful of performances to date (including one at the new Noho club Subculture earlier this month) but there is talk of deeper collaborations including a recording together. Even though the two men live in different cities – Labro in Toronto and Vieaux in Cleveland – they contend that the distance helps keep things fresh.
“We haven’t really talked much about the organism of this duo,” said Vieaux. “Maybe that’s what’s making the arrangements more free. We don’t rehearse all the time.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Audio: Edward Haber; Text & Production: Brian Wise; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon