Album review: The Mango Balloon (Julian Curwin)

The Mango Balloon Vol 3, Romero Records March 2014
Julian Curwin
Available from Newmarket Music

Review by John Clare

Mango Balloon coverLet us talk a little about the accordion – or piano accordion as we used to call it – because this is perhaps the most important key to the sound and character of this music, though it is not on every track and it is not one of the leader’s instruments.

First, an important memory of mine and one that might find echoes in your experience. In the flat next to ours during and after the 2nd World War, which brought so many refugees and migrants to Australia and changed our cultural spectrum in huge ways, there lived an Austrian Jewish family called the Ronais. Mr Ronai had himself executed some of the oil paintings in their front room – people in city streets were shown in impressionistic drifts of colour, anonymous yet full of character, that I often stared at for long periods – and he played the piano accordion. Did I like it? I’m not sure, but it fascinated me as deeply as the paintings. Both from somewhere else, in style curiously modern and folk-like. Sophisticated. This instrument displaced a great deal of air in a smallish flat. It had mother of pearl inlays and also a bellows. It fanned out chordally, punctuated percussively in harmonic coughs and massive quivering groans, and it flowered in fleet treble runs and arpeggios. And it stirred memories of things I had never really heard or seen except through depiction and hearsay and perhaps through movies to which my aunt would take me.

It was redolent of boulevardiers and revolutionaries, though I had no real idea what they were, at cafe tables; of gaiety and deep melancholy and the curious progressions of some ethnic dance.

Certainly every instrument here, and every superb musician on this disc, has that magical power – you can hear Spain and the Balkans in the rich blare of Sam Golding’s trumpet, the depth of haunted nights in Shenzo Gregorio’s viola and the ethereal echoes of Julian Curwin’s guitars – and so on – but the accordion has, somehow, the essence. The accordionist here is Marcello Maio.

All the music here has been written by Curwin and each tune is both singular, original, yet archetypical. Not The Mediterranean, nor the Aegean, nor the Bosphorous lay at the bottom of my street, but the Tasman Sea within the greater Pacific. This was Australia and yet all of that foreign-ness was here too. And thanks to these wonderful folk – and not to forget the late Kim Sanders – it has flowered here and changed subtly as it has changed us (even those who resist the change). We have here a collection that will transport you to other places and heighten your experience of Australia here and now. Each ingenious, gay, sorrowful and abandoned piece.

It would be silly not to have this in your collection of music.

While on the subject of the accordion and closely related instruments, here are some other Australia exponents: Peter Dasent, Gary Daley, Melbourne multi-instrumentalist Steven Grant, who told me, last time I saw him, that he had been asked by the French community to play the accordion on Bastille Day. And Gus Merzi, who played jazz accordion in night clubs, including one owned by my uncle Charles Valentine (originally Carlo Valentino from Queens). Due to my having mentioned Gus in a review of a Peter Dasent recording, Peter got in touch with him and they became friends. You can accidentally cause nice things to happen.


Julian Curwin, guitars,
Marcello Maio, accordion, piano
Sam Golding, trumpet, tuba
Danny Heifetz, drums
Shenzo Gregorio, viola
Jess Ciampa, percussion
Mark Harris, double bass


Mango Balloon selection on Soundcloud


Newmarket Music website
Romero Records on the web