Anyone who dug the frosty minimalism of Air Buttons, a set of solo melodeon improvisations from Linear Obsessional label boss Richard Sanderson, will dig this set of accordion duets, released on the same imprint and created by accordionist Mike Adcock with various collaborators. Air Buttons was so careful in its explorations that one could, occasionally, be forgiven that thinking their originator was floating deep cryogenic sleep as part of some thousand-year expedition to farthest reaches of known space. While not quite so pared down, Accord shares this unhurried pace, its dozen pieces unfolding slowly, and their constituent parts – synth, Theremin, saxes, bass clarinet, melodeon and percussion as well as Adcock’s own piano accordion – combining with understated grace. The compelling less-is-more aesthetic delivers a solid emotional punch as well as considerable sonic power.
Sanderson features on this recording – that’s him casting a low-temperature haze over Adcock’s deeper drones on Diplomatic Relations – and their instruments’ familial resemblance gives this duet the feel of the dying embers of an epic wedding celebration where only the most dissolute carousers remain, slumped and wine-stained but doggedly pursuing oblivion at all costs. There’s a similar, defamiliarized feel to the two Theremin duets, which put two Adcocks, Simon and Mike, together in an engaging combination. On Tiny Little One, Simon Adcock (a relation, I’m guessing?) executes slow, balletic moves towards and then away from the not-much-faster-paced accordion, while A Ride On The Plinky Plonk dallies around the lower end for a spookier, spacier vibe, before resolving itself into star-drenched joy. That the Theremin’s luminous retro-futurist coo continues to sound as oddly out of time as the accordion’s ancient-sounding wheeze is, perhaps, why these two instruments feel so well matched.
But what’s really interesting about Accord is how melodic a lot of the interventions often are. Adcock and his collaborators eschew the strictness of a puritan free improv approach without slipping into tweeness or needless ornamentation. Gasps of folkish melodies in one piece are contrasted by hints at a melancholy, almost cinematic, lyricism elsewhere. Saxophones – tenor, soprano and sopranino – are allowed to let fly with brassy clusters of notes or reflective flights of fancy. Even the percussion, handled with aplomb by Stuart Wilding, is discreet without slipping into tastefulness. But it’s Adcock’s accordion that usually gets the best tunes. On the opener, Off Grid, the lushness of Mark Unsworth’s synth is given a stern dressing down by Adcock’s bleak melodies, as unconsoling as a murder ballad, while later on their second piece, Level Crossing, the duo hit a krautrock chug that sounds like a French café band covering Neu’s Isi. Dear John, in contrast, sees Adcock laying down a mournful tune that could be straight out of the Shirley and Dolly Collins playbook, before slowly disassembling itself, accompanied sibilant percussion clatters.
“For me, the accordion generally works best as an ensemble instrument,” says Adcock in the PDF booklet that accompanies this release. “I wanted to explore the possibilities of its sharing the stage with one other instrument, not getting too big for its boots, enjoying a dialogue, looking for common ground,” he explains. On this evidence, he’s succeeded.