Items for Accordion and Piano’

I had the fantastic alternative to fulfill with Jenny Conlee and talk about her new album Tides: Items for Accordion and Piano which will likely be launched March twenty fourth. The proficient artist is most properly often known as the accordionist and keyboardist of The Decemberists, however her new album showcases her unbelievable talents as each a composer and solo performer.

The album is split into two components. The primary incorporates a set of songs for accordion within the seven Greek scales. Every one is supposed to evoke completely different facets of nature, they usually all invite us to hearken to and admire the accordion in a brand new and thrilling manner. Within the second half, Conlee switches to piano and works with ostinatos (repeated melodic phrases) for 5 magical items, meant to hypnotize and encourage.

Throughout our dialog, Conlee defined that as a result of Covid restrictions made working with a band almost inconceivable, the artistic course of for the accordion items was fairly distinctive. “I utilized for an artist’s residency. There’s this actually funky classic trailer park referred to as the “Sou’Wester” on the coast right here in Washington. And it is like thirty classic trailers… very arty. They’ve a little bit music venue…a little bit artwork gallery. So about thirty artists get collectively for per week they usually put you up and then you definitely do a proposal and on the finish of the week you do a efficiency” she informed me. The piano items, then again, had been written over the previous three years. Conlee described her behavior of gathering little “track seeds” in her on a regular basis life. “With the piano ones, I simply kind of acquire. I am all the time simply kind of writing little piano issues.”

A part of what makes these twelve songs so particular is how a lot artistic freedom and management Conlee had with the venture. Not like her work with bands or her final solo album French Kayaking Music (the soundtrack to the movie Voyagers With out Hint), the tales Conlee informed had been fully as much as her. “Due to the character of the timing after I wrote these with Covid, I wished to do one thing alone, and that was the time to do it. It was unclear whether or not we had been going to have the ability to get again collectively once more and make music. So I feel the most important distinction is that it is all me and I will be performing it and recording it… the one information is me. There is no movie I’ve to comply with… it is like simply have a look at the hawk, what would the hawk say? After which how would you interpret that?”

Conlee additionally spoke a little bit on sure challenges that arose by being so impartial. “It was all only one take so I needed to get by the entire track, and that… that is laborious. And in addition the music is technically tougher on this file in order that’s one thing it’s important to take into consideration generally. Like watch out what you do to your self.” As well as, she mentioned that these items “had been extra nebulous. I feel it is tougher to simply seize concepts out of the universe, thus why I give myself constraints reminiscent of modes or subject material.”

Inside these self-imposed confinements, nevertheless, Conlee discovered the chance to discover her musical inclinations and discover a deeper sense of self. “I feel there may be extra me [in the album]. I let my tendencies fly. I used to be identical to ‘here is my concept! Let’s maintain it!’ ” For instance, when writing the piano songs, she observed that she’s drawn in the direction of ostinatos within the bass. “I noticed how a lot I am doing that and that is why I ended up calling them 5 Ostinatos.” The impact of it is a very cohesive file. “The songs all stay in a single home. All of them have comparable vitality and melodic content material.”

This isn’t to say in any manner, nevertheless, that the items do not stand on their very own. Conlee is a masterful storyteller, even with out phrases. “Wanting Glass”, the fourth piano piece on the album, particularly stood out to me. To start with, her melodies are dreamy, legato, and lightweight, sweeping you into a peaceful earlier than crashing into harsh dissonance and eerie remnants of the preliminary sounds. We finally return to the unique phrase, nevertheless it has modified barely. It clashes extra continuously, and is not harking back to a dream.

After I requested her concerning the track, her clarification matched precisely with the story the music informed. “I used to be employed to compose that piece by a gaggle referred to as “Twist Out Most cancers” which pairs musicians with individuals coping with most cancers and then you definitely attempt to inform their story. I used to be the primary musician they used for that course of as a result of I’ve had most cancers in my previous so that they introduced me in.” Conlee was paired with a younger lady who detailed her journey with most cancers to Conlee. “[This woman’s] life was sort of cruising alongside till the announcement of her most cancers which is the sort of crunching sound. It is like this sort of dreamy sort of ‘oh right here I’m in life’, and then you definitely hear the darkness of the analysis… After which she realizes (as a result of [she and her husband] had been making an attempt to have a toddler) that, oh, she can have a toddler; that is the large extensive open space that will get again to the primary theme once more which is again to life. But it surely’s a little bit bit darker now, sort of like there’s this new edge to it. So I attempt to sort of comply with these life occasions of hers in that piece.”

Her storytelling talents are additionally discovered within the accordion items. “Hawk (Dorian)” soars and dives, evoking photographs of the highly effective chicken on the hunt, “Sundown (Ionian)” builds and expands with wonderful coloration, and “Ocean (Mixolydian)” strikes in waves, climbing and receding, and mimicking the seas unpredictable temperament.

After I requested Conlee if she went into the residency realizing which facets of nature she would pair with which modes, she mentioned that she simply let herself be impressed by the world round her, besides for 2 songs; “Sand (Aeolian) and “Wind (Phrygian).” “The one that basically made me really feel like I have to do that was “Sand”, with the tremendous excessive notes, on aeolian. That mode appears so otherworldly to me, in order that appeared like the appropriate factor.”

To be able to clarify her inspiration for “Wind”, phrases had been inadequate. As a substitute, in a magical second, Conlee’s accordion appeared out of nowhere. Lifting the huge instrument onto her lap with relative ease, she started to play me the phrygian mode that impressed the creation of her wind track. “The phrygian mode is simply so unique to me due to this half”, she explains as she performs. “I used to be like I have to make that [mode] the wind track as a result of it has that like… [she plays the scale]… I imply I assume what I am doing is imagining it has a whirling dervish one thing, or some sort of a desert genie or one thing.”

The accordion made a number of different appearances as she spoke about her songwriting course of. “To be sincere I generally begin my accordion music on piano as a result of it is a little bit simpler to see what is going on on. Then the hazard of that’s that possibly it will likely be too laborious for the accordion. [Piano and accordion] each do their very own issues properly, however a c to a c sharp is very easy on the piano whereas a c to a c sharp on the accordion is the furthest bounce you can also make due to the best way it is arrange. So yeah it is advisable watch out of these issues.”

We completed our dialog by discussing what’s subsequent for Conlee. First, she is trying ahead to her upcoming exhibits, particularly her March twenty sixth present in Portland, Oregon, at The Outdated Church and her present at The Royal Room in Seattle, Washington, on April thirtieth as a result of they each have lovely grand pianos. “Like I simply performed these items in Eugene at a performing arts middle, however they did not have a piano so I used my keyboard and it is simply not the identical”, she defined. “I am trying ahead to these exhibits, and the opposite ones too, however I stay up for these as a result of [they’re] tremendous professional rooms with nice sound engineers. It is actually necessary to have the sound be good as a result of it is not a rock present, it is a listening present, so it is good to have an surroundings the place it is a sit-down quiet sort of house.”

As soon as her solo stuff is over, Conlee hopes to put in writing for her band The Jenny Conlee Quartet. The group consists of piano, clarinet, accordion, drums and bass, however has but to launch a file. “I wish to do a file for the band subsequent time as a result of I wish to do extra band exhibits, and so I feel I would like to put in writing music for the band to ensure that the band to love have a track to play, you realize? … As a result of I actually take pleasure in performing with a band as a result of solo efficiency is so demanding” she mentioned with amusing. “I wish to share the strain with everybody on stage.”

And in excellent news for The Decemberists followers (like myself), Conlee confirms new music is coming quickly. “We [The Decemberists] did a tour final summer season, only a quickie august tour, and we simply began recording within the studio final month for per week and we’re simply beginning our new file. So I am unsure when that can get completed, we’re positively not near being completed, however there’s positively new songs within the works, in order that’s thrilling.”

Within the meantime, do not be scared to work some accordion music into your rotation! Jenny Conlee is a singular expertise who approaches accordion music in an highly effective, authentic, and modern manner. You’ll be able to stream “Hawk (Dorian)” now, and you’ll want to look out for the whole Tides: Items for Accordion and Piano on March twenty fourth. You may as well catch Conlee touring on:

March twenty sixth – The Outdated Church, Portland, OR

April twentieth – Charlene Larson Middle for the Performing Arts, Astoria, OR (w/ Casey Neill)

April twenty second – Brewvana, Prosser, WA (w/ Casey Neill)

April thirtieth – The Royal Room, Seattle, WA (w/ Casey Neill)

Aug. 19-20 – The Cotati Accordion Pageant, Cotati, CA


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