Musette Explosion uses chamber music to remix quintessential French sound

Chamber music sometimes means string quartets and long-dead composers, but for Will Holshouser, it means accordion and improv.

Along with tubist Marcus Rojas and guitarist Matt Munisteri, Holshouser performs as Musette Explosion at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall as part of the Logan Chamber Music Series.

At face value, the group’s name does little to explain what it actually does. Explosions are familiar enough, but that’s not the case for the funny-sounding word that precedes it.

“The simplest way to answer ‘What is musette?’ is to point to Parisian accordion music,” Holshouser said.

As it turns out, musette is the quintessential French sound — think the schmaltzy accordion tunes used in film and TV to cue something French on-screen.

Even so, there’s technically very little that’s French about the genre’s origins. Musette came of age in the early 20th century out of a confluence of Italian, Polish, German, Roma and American jazz influences. A century ago, this mishmash could be heard piping out of dance halls and bars in Paris.

Holshouser said Musette Explosion is a continuation of that eclectic tradition as the trio adds its own New York flavor that emphasizes rhythm and improvisation. Still, he said they preserve the beauty and fun of the genre.

“It’s really pleasure-oriented music — music that was originally made for dancing and having a good time in places of amusement,” he said.

Originally a pianist, Holshouser picked up accordion in college. He stumbled upon musette after a French label re-released several musette albums in the 1990s. From there, he started transcribing the accordion parts from the albums, and now he and his colleagues write their own musette tunes.

The inclusion of “explosion” in the group’s name may make it sound edgier than intended — Holshouser said the trio has no plans of blowing the top off Lenna Hall this afternoon.

“Part of the funny thing about the name ‘explosion,’ is that it’s actually a very quiet explosion,” he said. “It’s more like a dandelion puff.”

While the group is no string quartet, he said, Musette Explosion has a lot in common with more traditional chamber groups. There’s the same intimate feel of give and take between performers, only with an accordion and a vintage Gibson guitar thrown into the mix.

And that unique mix and style is part of why Holshouser said work feels so effortless.

“It’s just like falling off a log,” he said. “Every time out is something new.”