Will Holshouser: Singing To A Bee (2006)
The first thing one notices about Singing To A Bee is the intricate packaging of folded cardboard with a magnetic catch (!) to hold the assembly together. Having never seen anything quite like this before (the winner in packaging originality thus far was Gebhard Ullmann's 1993 recording Ta Lam, released by 99 Records), I was more than a little intrigued as to what music was lurking inside.
Singing To A Bee is a live recording of a concert in the small, intimate Teatro Lethes on the last gig in a ten-day tour of Portugal. Given that the instrumentation consists of accordion, trumpet and bass, one might accuse Will Holshouser is trying too hard to be different for its own sake, but that would be a misplaced accusation. Everything works, and works well, especially when combined with Holhouser's unique and engaging compositions.
With an unerring sense of balance and delicacy, Holshouser, trumpeter Ron Horton and bassist David Phillips play an intimate set that is full of surprises. Holshouser plays accordion like no one else, getting a wide variety of sounds and textures in a manner that's entirely different from say, Victor Prieto. Horton is his perfect foil, playing with a very sharp and tight sound and blending very well by precisely controlling his dynamics. Phillips not only controls his volume but is also very careful in his placement of notes and their register, as well as the mixing of plucking and bowing.
Holshouser the composer matches the player in that less is more. His phrases and harmony have an oddness about them that are surprising, but make total sense. Each piece is a miniature story that has the feel about it of tight arrangement while allowing much individual freedom. The players really know each other and one can easily sense the organic development of each piece.
This music is very hard to characterize, and each piece has its own mood. Everything is quite delicate, even "Fish Head Stomp," which clearly nods towards a Cajun/zydeco feel. Horton, although he does play out in this tune at times, is continually brought back within the web created by Phillips' arco bass and Holshouser's intimations, effectively seducing the listener into continually waiting for the other aural shoe to drop.
"Uma Bica" is listed as a group effort, and the piece does have the feel of an in-the-moment improvisation, starting off with Holshouser playing solo. He's joined by Phillips as they move in and out of rhythm, until Horton finally joins with both shrieks and lines, all played at moderate volume. In the end, the sound and effect is the same as the other pieces, except with no overt melody.
The audience was enchanted throughout this performance and applauded heartily at the end of the traditional "La Esperanza." Allow yourself to be seduced also by this poetic and finely crafted delicacy that will reveal many layers within the gossamer the trio weaves. Recommended.
Track Listing: The North Star; Far Away Home; Brooklyn Research; Singing to a Bee; Fish Head Stomp; Nameless; Uma Bica; Grace in Mid-Fall; La Esperanza.
Personnel: Will Holshouser: accordion; Ron Horton: trumpet; David Phillips: bass.