Would it be despairingly uncool to refer to French musician Daniel Mille as the Hendrix of the accordion? Is there anything cool about accordions at all?

Last evening, during his official U.S. debut performance at the Simons Center’s Recital Hall, Mille and his trio — with Stéphane Chausse on bass clarinet and clarinet and Eric Longsworth on cello — managed to shake and rattle any typically American assumptions over the unpretentious squeezebox with an amazing set of indefatigable chamber music.

During an interview two weeks ago, Mille emphasized his determination to cross over from traditional concert music to jazz and improvisational music. On his large button accordion (no piano-style keys), he guided Chausse and Longsworth through an unexpectedly exotic, moody, and dynamic musical journey.

Wachovia Jazz producer/director Michael Grofsorean told the nearly-full hall during his introduction that Daniel Mille and his trio had flown in from Paris just for their appearance at Spoleto Festival USA. He was visibly pleased to have the act in town.
Dressed casually, Mille walked onto an uncluttered stage smiling. He sat side by side with his trio at the stagefront and immediately kicked into a syncopated, gypsy-jazz “bass line” plucked and slapped on Longsworth’s cello. It was a surprisingly groovy opening number with plenty of room for improvisation from Mille and Chausse.

Mille’s impressive technique was on full display as he dipped and bobbed from one mood to another. It sounded like he could do just about anything on the instrument. He bent notes, embellished melodic themes with bluesy licks, held notes through lengthy fade-outs, and trilled rapidly on buttons way up in the register, adding a dissonant effect. With a facial expression that looked equally pained and relieved, his eyes stayed closed almost the entire program. He even sang (or scatted) at moments. Hendrix would have dug it. So would Ellington, Segovia, Yankovic, and Piazzolla.

The trio played in full harmony. Longsworth’s masterful bowing technique was purely classical, but his plucking and strumming styles were obviously jazz-influenced. Chausse switched between the standard clarinet and the bass clarinet (with a saxophone-style bell) during every tune. Both musicians blending their instrument sounds beautifully with Mille’s accordion — through straightforward melodies and unnerving moments of dissonance and odd time signatures.

Much of the program hovered between classical and jazz styles. Some of it sounded like a cinematic soundtrack waiting for the film to find it. It certainly effected the moods of the audience, who responded with loud approval after every number. Bravo pour une exécution excellente.

Daniel Mille • Wachovia Jazz Series • $30  • 1 hour 15 min. • May 31, June 1, 2  at 7 and 9 p.m. • Recital Hall, Albert Simons Center, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100