Hurdy-gurdy meets jazz

Trame (Gilles Chabenat & Alain Bonnin)
Bethany Lutheran Church
Seattle, WA
September 24, 2003

A year ago, I didn’t even know what a hurdy-gurdy looked like. And now that I
have seen hurdy-gurdy players twice in concert (Le Vent du Nord and Trame), I
still have a difficult time describing the instrument to readers.

When I first arrived at the church where Trame would be performing, I was
shown an acoustic version of a hurdy-gurdy, that in itself would cause any
musician to salivate. Although this particular instrument hadn’t been broken in
yet, its ancestors reach back 1000 years from origins in Central Europe. Today,
you will find the instrument being performed in Russia, Scandinavia, France,
Spain and other European countries, as well as North America. You can hear its
drones and Moog synthesizer like tones emitting from music of various cultures.
Most surprising was hearing a hurdy-gurdy on Mohawk vocalist Lawrence Laughing’s
recording, Now Our Minds Are One. And this just proves the versatility of this
keyboard-fiddle-like instrument.The hurdy-gurdy and its uses have evolved over time. Gilles Chabenat, half of
the duo, Trame performed jazz compositions on an electric and fully equipped
hurdy-gurdy. However, Gilles and his musical partner pianist Alain Bonnin got
off to a bad start, when half way through their first composition, a circuit
breaker blew. This problem was remedied as a few light-hearted jokes rallied
around a jovial audience (consisting mostly of
hurdy-gurdy players and students of the instrument). Soon Gilles and Alain
returned to their jazz repertoire, which in itself defies the usual
descriptions. Yet, I could hear elements of contemporary Finnish folk-roots
music, American jazz, French traditional and even echoes of French Impressionism
(the music, not the paintings).

Gilles and Alain who met eight years ago while performing in the Corsican group,
I Muvrini work well off of each other. Both musicians proved mastership over
their respective instruments, but also seemed to be communicating telepathically
with one another and at times, they broke into wild improvisations such as on a
composition that Gilles dubbed “French rock and roll.” If Gilles had lit his
instrument on fire, he would have drawn comparisons with Jimi Hendrix (after
all, this is Seattle). Le Fil/Mab featured a funky piano solo and some
delightful jazz interpretations. Couleur par Couleur began as a slow melodic
piece then the musicians picked up speed, creating frenzied and dissonant music.
This led into the experimental Carmin and then into the mood piece, Argile.
Although most of the compositions fell into jazz, a couple of traditional dance
songs were performed and Trame ended their performance with the encore,
Madranque in which a few of the Over the Water Hurdy-Gurdy Association board
members joined in as a vocal choir, complete with polyphonic harmonies.

The overall atmosphere created was one of sheer enjoyment and honoring
musicianship. Perhaps the hurdy-gurdy and the Hurdy-Gurdy Association will
successfully bridge the gap between France and the US through a passion for
music, both ancient and modern. Concerts such as this one uplift audiences while
preserving roots and heritage. And that alone is worth the price of admission.

(Compliments of Cranky Crow World