The Fool and the Hero

A Hawk and a Hacksaw features an accordion—and you'd better respect it

Jeremy Barnes is fascinated by the endlessly curious manner in which musical influences travel in a loop around the world.

"A lot of bands today in the former Yugoslavia, Greece, the Balkans and other parts of Eastern Europe are influenced by Mexican and Spanish music, because a lot of the folk music from this part of the world was influenced by Greek and Polish music, especially in its use of accordion and brass, tubas and trumpet, and with the marches and polkas," says Barnes via phone from his home in Albuquerque, N.M.

Barnes, an accordionist and percussionist, is the founder of A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a band in which he partners with violinist Heather Trost. The group bases its engaging sound on traditional music from Greece, Turkey, Romania, the Slavic countries and the Roma (gypsy) people, with subtle hints of the Hispanic music of the American Southwest and northern Mexico.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw will play Tuesday night, March 1, at Solar Culture Gallery. Tucsonan Amy Rude will also be on the bill.

The band is touring to support its sixth album, Cervantine, which Barnes and Trost released Feb. 15 on their newly inaugurated record label, L.M. Dupli-cation.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw's name is a variation on a phrase in Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century Spanish novel, Don Quixote, and the title of their new album is an adjective pertaining to the study of Cervantes' work.

Don Quixote has been an important inspiration for A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Barnes says.

"It has kind of influenced what we have done musically all along, especially the dual themes of chivalry and foolishness; we embrace that dichotomy completely," he says. "There is something wonderful about the fact that he is the fool, but he also comes out as the hero."

A former drummer for the band Neutral Milk Hotel, Barnes started A Hawk and a Hacksaw in 2000. At the time, he played all of the instruments and explored traditional American music. Trost joined in 2004, and soon, they embarked on a global adventure.

"We have done a lot of traveling. I started the band in France, where I was playing mostly American music. I came home and met Heather in New Mexico. We moved to Hungary and also Romania, where we played with mostly English musicians. We moved back home a few years ago to play with American musicians."

Among the musicians on Cervantine are bouzouki player Chris Hladowski; his sister, Stephanie Hladowski, on vocals; trumpeter Samuel Johnson; tuba player Mark Weaver; Issa Malluf on the doumbek drum; and percussionist Charles Papaya.

The tour that brings A Hawk and a Hacksaw to Tucson will feature a scaled-back version of the band. In addition to Barnes and Trost, a trumpeter and doumbek player will be in attendance, Barnes says.

The band's extended compositions are rich and cinematic, with different sections of tunes often conjuring up scenes from an imagined movie.

"That's the idea: It's kind of to tell a story," Barnes says. "We want to give visuals through the music that provide details of a story, but also leave it up to the interpretation of the listener. Some of the songs I love the most are instrumentals, or songs sung in a language I don't understand. That makes me picture things in my head that I would never think about otherwise. We don't often use English when there are lyrics, because I don't want our music to be limited to people who only speak the English language."

A Hawk and a Hacksaw plays all over the world, and the band has toured with such acts as Wilco, Andrew Bird, of Montreal, Beirut, Portishead and Tucson's Calexico.

As one might guess, in the pursuit of traditional Eastern European sounds, Barnes has allowed his knowledge of contemporary pop music to wane.

"I don't feel very drawn to modern or contemporary music. I don't listen to much rock music at all these days, unless it's Creedence Clearwater Revival. When I was a kid, I actually got to meet the drummer, Doug Clifford. He gave me the best musical advice I ever got. He said, 'Listen to the bass player.'"

As an accordionist, though, Barnes will brook no derision of his instrument.

"The accordion was designed as a global instrument, to be able to play music from cultures all over the world. And accordionists are probably the most versatile musicians, aside from drummers. I mean, this is an instrument that can be used to play music in Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America."

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