At the WOMEX conference in Essen, Germany, last October, an incredible trio of Polish accordionists completely rocked the place. Calling themselves the Motion Trio, these three virtuosi—Janusz Wojtarowicz, Pawel Baranek and Marcin Galazyn—kicked up a bigger noise on their custom-built instruments than most rockers do with their guitars. They mesmerized the crowd of jaded music-biz types with blistering runs, interlocking glissandos and bellows-scraping bass notes that you had to hear to believe. Impressive as they were, it could reasonably be assumed that they would remain a European phenomenon, which is why it was so exciting to find the U.S. release of their debut CD, Pictures From The Street (Asphalt Tango), in my mailbox the other day.
The album captures Motion Trio’s highwire live act in all its frenetic glory. Wojtarowicz, Baranek and Galazyn play as a tight ensemble, trading off on solos while providing rollicking rhythmic and harmonic cover for one another. Together their three accordions replicate an entire 21-piece chamber orchestra, and they push their instruments to the limits, coaxing strange new sounds out of them on tracks like “Train To Heaven” and “Scotsman.” They can sound traditional, as on “Café Paris,” or convincingly mimic brass band arrangements, as on “Balkan Dance.”
Though classically trained, the group honed its sound as street musicians playing all over Europe, performing for tourists, cops, passersby, drunks, punks, kids and even the occasional skinhead.
But don’t let their streetwise scruffiness fool you, these guys are fantastic musicians and take their project seriously. Wojtarowicz even wrote a book for composers interested in exploring the full potential of the accordion.
“Our idea is to take this instrument,” he explains, “which is only thought about for weddings or polka or tango, and to make it as serious as any other classical instrument. This versatile instrument can play everything from contemporary classical music to folk or even avant-garde music.”
The establishment is listening, too. In 2000 Motion Trio took first prize in both the “trio” and “Grand Prix” categories at the 4th annual Krzysztof Penderecki International Contemporary Chamber Music Competition in Krakow. And those custom-built accordions?