Items for Accordion and Piano’


I had the great alternative to satisfy with Jenny Conlee and talk about her new album Tides: Items for Accordion and Piano which will probably be launched March twenty fourth. The gifted artist is most effectively generally 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 accommodates a set of songs for accordion within the seven Greek scales. Every one is supposed to evoke completely different elements of nature, and so they all invite us to hearken to and recognize the accordion in a brand new and thrilling means. 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 practically unimaginable, 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 known as the “Sou’Wester” on the coast right here in Washington. And it is like thirty classic trailers… very arty. They’ve slightly music venue…slightly artwork gallery. So about thirty artists get collectively for every week and so they put you up and then you definately do a proposal and on the finish of the week you do a efficiency” she instructed me. The piano items, then again, have 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 gather. I am at all times 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 undertaking. 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 instructed have been utterly 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 have been going to have the ability to get again collectively once more and make music. So I believe 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 take a look at the hawk, what would the hawk say? After which how would you interpret that?”

Conlee additionally spoke slightly on sure challenges that arose by way of being so impartial. “It was all only one take so I needed to get by way of the entire track, and that… that is exhausting. And in addition the music is technically more durable on this report 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 stated that these items “have been extra nebulous. I believe it is more durable to simply seize concepts out of the universe, thus why I give myself constraints corresponding to modes or subject material.”

Inside these self-imposed confinements, nonetheless, Conlee discovered the chance to discover her musical inclinations and discover a deeper sense of self. “I believe there may be extra me [in the album]. I let my tendencies fly. I used to be similar to ‘here is my thought! Let’s preserve it!’ ” For instance, when writing the piano songs, she seen that she’s drawn in direction of ostinatos within the bass. “I spotted 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 report. “The songs all stay in a single home. All of them have related vitality and melodic content material.”

This isn’t to say in any means, nonetheless, 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. At first, her melodies are dreamy, legato, and light-weight, sweeping you into a peaceful earlier than crashing into harsh dissonance and eerie remnants of the preliminary sounds. We ultimately return to the unique phrase, but it surely has modified barely. It clashes extra incessantly, and is now not paying homage to a dream.

After I requested her concerning the track, her rationalization matched precisely with the story the music instructed. “I used to be employed to compose that piece by a gaggle known as “Twist Out Most cancers” which pairs musicians with individuals coping with most cancers and then you definately 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 type of dreamy sort of ‘oh right here I’m in life’, and then you definately hear the darkness of the prognosis… After which she realizes (as a result of [she and her husband] have been attempting to have a baby) that, oh, she can have a baby; that is the massive huge open space that will get again to the primary theme once more which is again to life. But it surely’s slightly 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 superb shade, 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 elements of nature she would pair with which modes, she stated that she simply let herself be impressed by the world round her, besides for 2 songs; “Sand (Aeolian) and “Wind (Phrygian).” “The one that actually 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 correct factor.”

With the intention to clarify her inspiration for “Wind”, phrases have been inadequate. As an alternative, in a magical second, Conlee’s accordion appeared out of nowhere. Lifting the large 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 trustworthy I generally begin my accordion music on piano as a result of it is slightly simpler to see what is going on on. Then the hazard of that’s that possibly it will likely be too exhausting for the accordion. [Piano and accordion] each do their very own issues effectively, 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 you might want to watch out of these issues.”

We completed our dialog by discussing what’s subsequent for Conlee. First, she is trying ahead to her upcoming reveals, 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 stunning grand pianos. “Like I simply performed these items in Eugene at a performing arts heart, 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 reveals, and the opposite ones too, however I look ahead to 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 area.”

As soon as her solo stuff is over, Conlee hopes to jot down for her band The Jenny Conlee Quartet. The group consists of piano, clarinet, accordion, drums and bass, however has but to launch a report. “I need to do a report for the band subsequent time as a result of I need to do extra band reveals, and so I believe I would like to jot down music for the band to ensure that the band to love have a track to play, you already know? … As a result of I actually get pleasure from performing with a band as a result of solo efficiency is so aggravating” she stated with amusing. “I wish to share the stress 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 every week and we’re simply beginning our new report. So I am undecided when that may get carried out, we’re undoubtedly not near being carried out, however there’s undoubtedly 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, unique, and progressive means. You may stream “Hawk (Dorian)” now, and make sure you look out for the entire Tides: Items for Accordion and Piano on March twenty fourth. You may also catch Conlee touring on:

March twenty sixth – The Outdated Church, Portland, OR

April twentieth – Charlene Larson Heart 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 Competition, Cotati, CA


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