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Trad Beat: An overdue, and superb, stateside debut by Tweed, Carr

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

KAREN TWEED and IAN CARR, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, Conn.,

July 1.

It has taken far too long for 36-year-old piano accordion master Karen Tweed to make her first professional U.S. concert tour. (Her previous visit to the U.S. was as an accomplished amateur in 1985 with the annual Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann troupe.) We have the newly formed Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society, led by President Gregg Burnett, to thank for mounting on fairly short notice this memorable concert, done unamplified, by Tweed and Cumbrian guitarist Ian Carr.

Born in London of an English father and an Irish mother (from Ballybunion, Co. Co. Kerry), Karen Tweed took piano accordion lessons from Joe Coll in Northamptonshire and learned a lot of her early Irish tunes and technique from button accordionist John Whelan. "If it weren’t for John," she said before the concert, "I wouldn’t be here."

Whelan clearly taught her well. A former member of the Kathryn Tickell Band and now active in no fewer than four musical partnerships (the Poozies, the Two Duos Quartet, Swåp, and her duo with Carr), the five-time All-Ireland champion played Irish tunes with exacting expertise, supple grace, and immense charm on her Guerrini box.

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"Horse Keane’s Hornpipe," composed by Chicago piano accordionist Jimmy Keane in honor of his father, was performed at a model pace by Tweed, who neatly segued into "Mad Nights in Birmingham" that was followed by two Irish traditional tunes, "My Mind Will Never Be Easy" and "Will You Come Away With Me?" While chording capably with her left hand, she showed a breathtaking right-hand command of the keys on "The Contradiction" reel at a fleet tempo and a waltz by former Skylark member Garry Ó Briain in flawless 3/4 time.

But Irish music is only part of Tweed’s impressively large, eclectic repertoire. Using dynamics with great variety and sure instinct, she performed a polska by Finland’s five-row piano accordionist Maria Kalaniemi that was adventurously prefaced by "Christmas Day in the Morning" and succeeded by two Newcastle tunes, "Reel Madrid" and "Thomas McElvogue’s No. 5."

On a medley that began with "Dick the Welshman" and ended with her own "Orlando Polecat," Tweed simply cut loose, her long, thin fingers a blur over the keys. It was a tour de force, the kind of playing that earned its oohs and aahs from the crowd but never slipped into solipsism. Tweed, like her mentor Whelan, understands that technique is intended to serve the tune, not vice versa.

Scots melodies such as "Miss Irene Meldrum’s Welcome to Bon Accord/Auchengowan," the music to Lal Waterson’s "Altisidora," two more waltzes (by Alistair Anderson and Andy Cutting), and a high-kicking medley of "Thornton’s," a Frankie Gavin tune, and Dave Richardson’s "MacArthur Road" were all performed impeccably by Tweed and Carr. The latter, who displayed an impish dry wit, proved a deft fingerpicker on the Norwegian hardanger fiddle tune "Napoleon’s March" and a fine flatpicker on his own "Bigger House" tune.

Throughout the evening, Karen Tweed and Ian Carr combined taste, passion, humor, and skill in a concert that merely whetted one’s appetite for their return visit as well as the U.S. concert debuts of the Poozies, Swåp, and the Two Duos Quartet. Bring ’em on.

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