Pagoda ProjectPagoda Project
Album: Clarion
Label: Sylvafield
Tracks: 12

Pagoda Project is a duo comprising Paul Hutchinson (piano accordion) and Karen Wimhurst (clarinets). And neither of them sing (except with their respective instruments of course, you might say). Lest the thought of a whole album of nothing but accordion and clarinet duets fill you with trepidation, I must entreat you to read (and listen) on. It will help you to learn that the protagonists are both hugely talented and versatile musicians and share a love of all things musical, and with a wicked - and intelligent - sense of humour to match.

Anyone who's come across Paul from his long-term tenancy with Belshazzar's Feast and Hoover The Dog will know the kind of thing to expect - i.e. ebullient yet sensitive playing, with infectious, well-pointed rhythms, and a talent for taking tunes off into creative tangents, a real gift for affectionate pastiche, and a keen understanding of all manner of folk and world musics, classical and jazz disciplines. Oh, and a delicious sense of wordplay - which surfaces in the titles of his compositions (It Takes Three To Tango, Life In The Bus Lane …). For Paul's also a gifted composer in his own right, as is Karen.

Now Karen may not be quite as well known, at least to folk fans, although her musicianship is every bit equal to Paul's (she's also a wealth of experience in opera, theatre and musical education). Karen and Paul have worked together previously in various other settings, but Pagoda Project is a uniquely tailored stand-alone arrangement, currently touring a scintillating live show. Clarion is an effective soundtrack album, and proves that their music stands up to aural scrutiny outwith the live shows' zany introductory banter. Layers of subtle, if often mildly off-the-wall inventiveness are revealed on close listening, where folk transmutes into jazz (Irwins), The Cotswold town of Shipton is portrayed with a folky tone-poem, eastern-European flavours rub shoulders with Parisian café music, and so forth. Hymn (If Only…) introduces a blast-from-the-past in the form of a prelude played on the church organ (the instrument of Paul's very first professional engagements way back then!). It gets so involved - and involving - that at times, as on the enigmatically titled Bouzurka Waltz, it almost becomes irrelevant whether the tune is a waltz, bourrée, mazurka or 3/2 hornpipe after all.

The whole project is beautifully recorded, with the tonal properties of the clarinets in particular faithfully reproduced and the instruments in ideal balance. A commendable, and rather unusual, record.

David Kidman