Picks and Pans Review: Selling Water by the Side of the River

updated 02/04/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1991 01:00AM

Evan Lurie

A quintet built around a bandoneon, which is a concertinalike instrument with two keyboards and 60-odd buttons, sounds like someone's idea of the ultimate in avant-garde—or would that be retro—music making. For composer and pianist Lurie, of Lounge Lizards fame, pulling together such an ensemble was as formidable as it was fanciful. After all, how many bandoneon players are out there plying this German-designed, South American-imported cousin of the accordion, anyway?

After months of searching, Lurie lucked into meeting Argentine-born Alfredo Pedernera, a musician who had come to the U.S. from Buenos Aires in 1980. Freedo, as he is called, played some of Lurie's original compositions for bandoneon, and a collaboration began that widened to include such downtown New York City musicians as guitarist Marc Ribot, violinist Jill Jaffe and bassist John Beal.

The results, to be found on this enigmatic though beautifully named album, are dazzling. Combining elements of both tango and pretango rhythms, Lurie and company whirl and waltz through 12 numbers whose hallmark is a kind of pure melody—lively, lush and full of light-hearted passion. This music is serious fun.

Beginning with "The Spinster's Waltz," an ultrapretty-sounding piece that evokes an everyman's Old Country feel, the group offers an expansive, haunting and almost dirgelike "Terraces," a spirited "Tarantella" and an edgy "Ballad of a New York Peasant."

What's rare and inviting about Lurie's work on this album (he wrote 11 of the 12 songs) is his insistence on the pleasures and the importance of melody. The bandoneon, with its quirky richness of sentiment and sound, seems perfectly suited to Lurie's new old-fashioned ways. (Island)

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