Monday, July 21, 2014

Marcel Loeffler - Jazz Accordionist Extraordinaire

The accordion is not a often featured or promoted instrument in jazz, although there have been notable exceptions. American bandleaders like Bennie Moten and Duke Ellington had accordion players added to their orchestras late 1920s in some of the band's performance and recordings, but at that time the accordion was generally not regarded as a genuine instrument fit for jazz among critics, rather just another novelty gem to catch the attention of the  public. However, in Europe things turned out a bit different compared to the American scene, maybe due to the fact
that the accordion is an European invention and has always been used in folk and popular music throughout its existence - the sound of the accordion is familiar to most Europeans and an accordionist was for a long time a normal ingredient in celebration of both private and public events among ordinary people.

Gus Viseur (1915-1974)
Photo in public domain
The accordion hit the jazzscene in Europe with the emergence of American swing-jazz during the 1930s. Paris, France, became the center of one of the first 'cross-over' movements in jazz and popular music thanks to accordionists schooled in Musette and the popular music of the Parisian dance halls. Brilliant instrumentalists like Gus Viseur, Jo Privat and Tony Murena incorporated swing-jazz tunes and improvisation in their performance and were stars on the Parisian scene in the 1930s and 1940s, and their concept of swing and jazz was deeply influenced by the interpretation of the idiom presented by Gypsy guitarists like Django Reinhardt, who started his own career
accompanying Musette accordionists before becoming the star of stars on the European jazzscene. The 'cross-over' from Musette to swing-jazz seemed to be a natural development that resulted in a hybrid and specific European jazz-style - often referred to as 'swing musette' or 'Manouche'- thanks to the exchange of ideas and close co-work between Parisian accordionists and Manouche guitarists like Django Reinhardt. The swing musette movement lasted until the end of WW2 and the emergence of be bop at the new American jazzscene after the war.

Nevertheless, the swing musette style lived on among Gypsy jazz musicians, who absorbed the music and incorporated it in their repertoire, and even today this jazz-style is alive and considered a 'source Manouche', which also is the title of a CD presented here.

CD-front: Marcel Loeffler - Source Manouche
Le Chant du Monde,Harmonia Mundi, 274 1388
The shown CD by accordionist Marcel Loeffler, Source Manouche, is not a typical example of the swing musette style, but a contemporary and up-to-date evaluation and development of music associated with both the Manouche influence and inspiration from modern jazz with roots in be bop improvisation. According to his official profile, Marcel Loeffler's musical roots are both the melodious swing-style of Gus Viseur and Django Reinhardt in the 1930s as well as the be bop improvisation presented by accordionists like Art Van Damme a.o.

Marcel Loeffler
(Photo credit Edwige and Joël Souedet)
Extract of career profile at the official website reads: "Music has played an important part in Marcel Loeffler’s life from a tender age. Introduced to it by his guitarist father, he quickly showed a predilection for the accordion. His earliest stage experience was at the age of 8 when he accompanied his father and brother on the trap set. “It was at that time that I started listening to the great jazz accordionists like Gus Viseur and Art Van Damme. I spent sleepless nights trying to imitate them.” His experiences and his encounters led him to play the piano, synthesiser and awakened his interest in other musical genres. “I was inspired by World music. I love music from Central Europe, North Africa, American jazz and good old French songs". Some of these influences are evident in his first solo album, “Vago”. The richness of Marcel Loeffler’s music undoubtedly comes from this fusion, this palette of different colours and an acute sensitivity. His roots are indeed manouche jazz, but Marcel quickly went on to broaden his horizons by closely following the work of musicians such as Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock, and by his irresistible fascination for sound." - A more detailed profile of Marcel Loeffler's career until the release of the Source Manouche CD shown above is to be found here.

Source Manouche ensemble (Photo copied from Marcel Loeffler's web-ablum, here)
The Source Manouche CD was recorded in 2005 and released by the Le Chant du Monde, Harmonia Mundi label. The CD contains fourteen tracks of music performed by the group of musicians shown at the photo above. Two compositions by Marcel Loeffler, 'Swing Suspens' and 'Ma Reference', introduce the musical atmosphere and inspiration in the first couple of tracks with Loeffler's accordion accompanied by the rhythm section composed of Gautier Laurent (double bass), Cédric Loeffler and Josélito Loeffler (rhythm guitar) and Yorgui Loeffler (lead guitar). There is one more composition by Marcel Loeffler, 'Pont de Venise', in track eight and with the same set-up of personnel. Invited guest performer Biréli Lagrène contributes on el-guitar in his own 'Fiso Place' in a duo version with Loeffler's accordion in track three, and Biréli Lagrène is also featured in the modern jazz standard 'All The Things You Are' in track six, which also adds another invited guest performer, accordionist Marcel Azzola, who further participates in his own 'Double Scotch' in track eleven. Vocalist Lisa Doby is added as singer in a swinging version of the traditional spiritual 'Josphua Fit The Battle of Jerico' in track ten, and Yorgui Loeffler's composition 'Ruby' is featured in track nine. Further, instrumentals rooted in the Manouche jazz tradition like two compositions by Django Reinhardt are performed: 'Douce Ambiance' (track four), 'H.C.Q. Strut' (track twelve) and 'Ou est-tu, mon amour' (Lemarchant and Stern) (track thirteen) and a swing standard like 'Them There Eyes' (track five) are regular parts of the Gypsy jazz standard repertoire. There is also a version of Tony Murena's 'Passion' in track seven, and the CD ends with a solo version by Marcel Loeffler of a traditional 'La ballade Irlandaise' in track fourteen. 

In all, a varied program that points to the breadth of the musical inspiration that is the reason for the title of the CD, Source Manouche. Every track has the accordion in focus and shows off magnificent playing by all musicians involved. Marcel Loeffler is a contemporary virtuoso on his instrument accompanied by a staff of musicians that supports his playing and contributes with excellent accompaniment and solo spots througout.

The Source Manoche CD is highly recommended as a splendid example of Marcel Loeffler's virtuosity as a performer of great jazz, and the CD is still available for purchase at Amazon and other retailers at the internet.

To give you an impression of Marcel Loeffler's virtuosic playing, I'll insert a couple of video performances from YouTube. Here's first a live-performance of Loeffler's 'Swing Suspens', the opening track of the Source Manouche CD

Next, to end this presentation of Marcel Loeffler, here's a video recording of a live-performance from a festival in Strassbourg 2007 featuring Loeffler accompanied by musicians from the Source Manouche ensemble


The accordion may be considered a rare bird in jazz, however, a tradition with roots in swing-jazz of the 1930s and influence from the Gypsy version of the style that brought the accordion to fame on the European jazzscene in the 1930s and 1940s is still alive and gets an up-to-date version in the 2005 CD by accordionist Marcel Loeffler 
appropriately titled Sorce Manouce, a higly recommended example of Loeffler's musical virtuosity as well as a fully contemporary contribution to the evaluation and development of the Gypsy jazz idiom.

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