Will Holshouser Trio
The songwriter Arto Lindsay once said that it was pretensious to cite oneıs
influences, that to suggest a line of descent was wishful thinking. With
that in mind, I ask you not to catalogue the influences of the Holshouser
theyıre hidden in plain sight. (If youıre all about tracing the abstruse
genealogy of some riff back through the history of tenor giants, this will
disappoint). But citing, citing, citing doesnıt get at the heart of the
mystery (every great record has a mystery that keeps you coming back): how
the unique mimics the familiar as a form of camouflage.
The pieces on Reed Song seem always-already known. But then memory is a
tricky thing. When I try to remember where I first heard a piece of music,
I am generally wrong, recalling something deeply unlikely (Fear of Music in
a Chinese restaurant in deepest Brooklyn?). What Iıve really done is
soundtracked, found a memory to match the tune. So you may remember
hearing some of these, perhaps in a smoky basement on your first teenage
sneak-in to a jazz club. Or maybe a concert hall. A fish fry in a small
town on a long-ago road trip? A drafty wooden church at the wedding of an
attractive cousin you never got over a crush on? Thereıs a wealth of
cognitive mismatches here
the singalong melodies, the majesterial sonorities. Track after track,
Reed Song comes on so easy, and then gets more and more implausible.
Whatıs implausible about, say, the earthy "Blue Light Special" isnıt that
it starts out an homage to Louisianaıs legendary Canray Fontenot ends up in
one of Olivier Messiaenıs organ works. (The big free-bass accordion is
capable of complex chordings in both hands, and Will Holshouser works the
bellows as loud as a New York traffic jam.) Genre recombination is surely
no big deal in the c21. Whatıs weird is that the progression seems
It helps to know that Holshouser knows his Fontenot from years gigging in a
zydeco and Cajun band
popular honky tonk, not to mention weddings, corporate functions, and
parks. It helps to know that the ghost of musettes that haunts "Unfried"
(et al.) has visited him since an ill-fated stint in a theme park where he
played "La Vie en Rose" with a pair of feuding lovers, enduring
humiliations that would make Piaf weep. That the demented syncopations of
"For the Birds" were honed as a founding member of the Raymond Scott
Orchestrette, which revives the work of that "outsider" swing bandleader.
That he luxuriated in hymns as the child of ministers with roots in the
American Baptist church. That the plangent melancholy of Bill Evans
settled on him during lonely years mastering the jazz classics when the
other kids joined punk and ska bands.
In other words, the varied strands Will weaves are not Lindsayıs maligned
"influences"; theyıre aspects of a life, a personality, one seemingly open
and genially humorous (his delight in grade-school wordplay is well
attested) but shot through with flashes of variegated, darker colors .
Thatıs how he is able to appropriate with neither reverence nor cheek. Like
Guy Klucevsek, Holshouserıs approach to the accordion is rooted in
traditional styles, but unlike that pioneer, heıs not so much interested in
pushing the boundaries of the instrument. Virtuosity allows him to play
with three hands and five emotions at once, but formalism is never allowed
to get in the way of the tune.
In fact the title Reed Song doesnıt do the record justice: even on the
title cut, itıs the trumpet that carries the lead. You could transcribe
Reed Song to piano, guitar, or big band and still have a juicy set of
compositions. But here the goal is to keep things simple, and Ron Horton
and Dave Phillips play with loaded understatement. They meld their
voicings with Holshouserıs seamlessly, especially on the trumpeterıs
rougher exhalations and the bassistıs long, solemn bows. (Horton can also
summon Louis Armstrong and Gustav Mahler, in his lieder, without calling
attention to the absurdity of such a meeting.) You realize only in passing
the level of artistry needed to orchestrate "simple."
In that mode of orchestration and in his full-bodied melodies, Will puts me
in mind of Bill Frisell in the mid-90s, when he wrote rustic jazz
symphonies under the star of Aaron Copland. Yet in its un-self-conscious
assimilation of jazz to other cultures, Reed Song seems more European than
American. The New York Times writer who associated the music with the
films of Fellini was on to something, not that Will is any Nino Rota
wannabe. In its approach to narrative, Reed Song seems to lie in the realm
of film and theater composition. At its sourest moments Reed Song recalls
Kurt Weill, and at its sweetest it gives Francis Lai a run for his melody.
Thereıs a lot of space between Threepenny Opera and A Man and a Woman, and
the Holshouser Trio gets busy covering it.