Howard Skempton

Home and Abroad

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Home and Abroad is made up of 32 pieces for solo accordion, plus a closing trio that includes piano and vibes. The composer and performer Howard Skempton has developed an astonishingly rich and luxurious repertoire for the instrument with music that draws heavily from the British folk tradition at the same time that it's seasoned with traces of Morton Feldman. Skempton came of age in the '60s avant-garde scene in England, alongside composers such as Cornelius Cardew and Gavin Bryars and, like Cardew and others, gradually came to abandon overt experimentalism for a simpler, more populist approach (although without Cardew's political overtones). The compositions here are all in song form, only one lasting more than three minutes, and consist of often stunningly gorgeous melodies and variations that can be appreciated on surface beauty alone, even as they invite close inspection and reveal surprising complexity underneath. Skempton forgoes any extended technique on his instrument, instead concentrating on richly colored textures and striking voicings, all working toward a lovely vocal quality. And songs like "Small Change," "Deeply Shaded," or "Something of an Occasion" can easily be imagined sung or hummed while walking down a country road. Some of the pieces, especially when Skempton utilizes very organ-sounding voicings, take on an almost hymn-like aura, though a decidedly secular one. He also has the habit of interjecting just the right, slightly dissonant chord into the song, just enough that the melody doesn't become over-sweet. Better known, perhaps, for his piano works, Home and Abroad is a wonderful collection of accordion airs that any fan of Guy Klucevsek will adore, and which also serves as an excellent introduction to this under-recognized and superb composer.

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