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The joy of the undiscovered

Astor in Paris
Astor in Paris
By 3 Leg Torso

Meester Records: 2003

This review first appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of Turbula.

It's hard to think of another band with as much global range as 3 Leg Torso. The Portland-based trio-plus-guests ranges from Parisian salon society to Argentinean tango hall to East European Jewish wedding to Warner Brothers cartoonland.

In fact, the title, which juxtaposes South American tango (via reference to the late tango master Astor Piazzolla) and more continental pursuits doesn't even do the band justice.

And here's the scary part: None of it sounds like an affectation. The band is as at home on the traditional Yiddish medley "Zemer Attic / Tanz Tanz Yiddelach" as it is on the Looney Tunes-inspired "Giant Stomp."

There are all kinds of wild influences floating around in this mesmerizing stew of sound: Frank Zappa and Piazzolla and Raymond Scott and the Klezmatics and lord only knows what else.

The beauty of it is, though, that the band takes all of these disparate influences and remake them into something wholly their own: Through all the different styles, moods and grooves present on this disc, everything is immediately, completely 3 Leg Torso.

Courtney Von Drehle's accordion is at the heart of most of the songs here, and he also wrote a four of the tracks. Béla Balogh's violin is the other half of the band's distinctive sound, and a half-dozen guest musicians contribute everything from xylophone to cello, marimba to clavé. And yet the sound isn't really exotic, at least not in the "gee whiz" manner of Martin Denny

If any one song can be held up as an example of 3 Leg Torso's approach it might be "Bill's Last Adventure": The only way to describe this is to ask you to imagine French chanteuse Edith Piaf singing an African-American gospel hymn at a Southern Baptist church. It is both stately and lilting, a combination that hadn't ever occurred to us before.

But that's the beauty of 3 Leg Torso – their music continually does something you'd never thought of before.