Saturday, December 02, 2006

Deti Picasso- Ethnic Experiments

DETI PICASSO- Ethnic Experiments (Deep Movement)

Where do we start with this one?

The band Deti Picasso is from Russia. Two of the members are Armenian in lead singer Gaya Harutyunyan and brother/guitar player Garen Harutyunyan. The 2004 CD "Ethnic Experiments" is sandwiched in between two other releases, 2002's "Mesjac Ulybok" (CD Land Records), and their new 2006 release "Glubina" (Deep Movement). They are not considered "Armenian artists" in the sense that they cater to the Moscow rock/punk/experimental music scene and sing mainly in Russian. That's their bread and butter. Like many ethnic Armenians in Europe and North America, they presumablydecided to dabble into their roots and as the CD title states, create "Ethnic Experiments". They have a cult following in Armenia and have given several very successful club concerts there, despite the general indifference toward rock music in the Homeland.

Whether I simply casually listen, review, or produce artistic risk-takers, there is a high degree of respect that is accorded to them right off the bat from me. I first heard an MP3 song (Im Gala) that was somehow sent to me via email in 2004 via Christina Sarkissian (the person who gave me a copy of Bambir- Quake while in the US) via Gor Mkhitarian. I had never heard Armenian music performed like this before. Yet, I was confused on whether I actually liked the music and needed more of a sample set. So, finally, after 2 years of looking around, I finally bought an authentic CD of "Ethnic Experiments" at the Avant Garde Folk Club on Pushkin this summer and have had time to ponder and absorb the music.

Presented as a loose concept album with the first track being dedicated to listening to a person waking up in the morning (or evening) and making a pot of coffee all while hearing the effect of a needle dropping on a record with LP scratches all while flutes, clarinets, and shvi's are being introduced. In general, musicians have to be careful when presenting a concept album as sometimes the side effects can detract from the main meal of music. See Prince's "The Sign Album" or Pete Townhend's "Pyschoderilect" as examples. Thankfully, Deti Picasso keeps the sideshow to a minimum while making its point. All of the brief interludes (track 7, secret hidden track at the end of the album) point toward a spiritual bond with their "ancient Armenian folk songs". I'll let you listen and decide to see if you think it's effective. I think it is, yet, maybe not as profound as the band intended it to be.

After the opening introductions, the band gets right down to business with one of the standout tracks on the album, Ai Nina (track 3) which features the nervous, edgy, and strangely beautiful voice of Gaya setting the stage for a somewhat epic version of the popular folk song. I can assure you it has never been played like this before, as toward the end of the song the band uses bone-crunching guitar licks and uninhibited vocal layers to finish off the the 5 minute crecendo. With quick breaks in the middle of the song fueled by the sounds of a cello, Deti Picasso create finesse in the eye of a storm. The ninth track, Ai Lele Yar is another bright spot proving the can handle a slow tempo while interpreting another folk song in a majestic and beautiful fashion. I had never imagined this song would ever be approached in this way. It's one of the reasons "Ethnic Experiments" is so appealing and effective.

Usually, producers like to front load an album with the best songs, leaving the filler toward the end before a strong finale. In this case, the best song on the album comes surprisingly third from the end with Merik. Again, based on a folk song, all main elements that Deti Picasso try to exhibit in the course of the album converge to form a masterwork of a song. It's all there, the angst, the finesse, the sound samples, the crecendo, the clarinet, and best of all, the passion. It is at this point in the album listening process, you begin to understand very clearly that this is a special band, and a special album.

Gaya's voice is not operatic, smooth, or even attractive. It is jagged, nervous, and urgent. She reminds me of Kristi Stassinapoulou or Savina Yannatou, both from Greece. A case can be made that she reminds of a raw Allanis Morrisette. In all cases, at first glance the voices aren't appealing. Yet, how they use it is very important. And, ultimately very effective. As for the rest of the band, they succeed in giving Gaya the neccessary color and punkish attitude needed for this all to work.

"Ethnic Experiments" is the type of album release in the Armenian language that happens once every few years. It startles you, and makes you think by going deeper into the approach than what is usually presented in a simple folk song. While anonymous artists come and go in Yerevan and in the Diaspora using folk music as a cheap vehicle to make money or springboard a career because they have no originality of their own, credit Deti Picasso for digging deep, and producing a delightfully flawed masterpiece of an album. Now, this is real music.

3.5 out of 4 Stars

Monday, October 24, 2005

Grammy Awards 2006- An Open Letter to Recording Academy Members

Dear Recording Academy Voters:

For the 2006 Grammy Awards show in LA on Feb 8, 2006, please consider voting for the following selections on your ballot under Field #30- Classical.

Best Classical Album- Category 96- Selection 062- Fortress City: Armenian Songs from Nagorno Karabagh. For more information on this album, please refer to Performed by the Mrakats, Varanda, and Vararakn Choirs of Nagorno Karabagh.

Best Choral Performance- Category 99- Selection 014- Fortress City: Armenian Songs from Nagorno Karabagh. For more information, please refer to Performed by the Mrakats, Varanda, and Vararakn Choirs of Nagorno Karabagh.

Best Classical Crossover Album- Category 106- Selection 041- Shoror: Armenian Folk Music for Guitar. For more information, please refer to Performed by Iakovos Kolanian

Thank you for your consideration.
Raffi Meneshian
CEO Pomegranate Music
Member, Recording Academy New York Chapter

Dear Armenian Music Review Readers-

Please help the artists and our label spread the work in getting this above piece of information out to as many people as possible. Our target market is Recording Academy Voting Members. There are a few in our community and maybe they can help spread the work. Pomegranate Music does not have the advertising budget to spread the news like Sony and mega corporations. We have to depend on a grass roots effort instead. As far as I know, our CD's are the only Armenian themed CD's on the ballot this year for Grammy Consideration. I have only checked the Classical area and the World Music area.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Armenian Navy Band Featuring Arto Tuncboyaciyan- The Sound of Our Life Part One: Natural Seed (Heaven and Earth)

Review forthcoming.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Hooshere- Hooshere (Self Produced)

*** (Three Stars)

Like Zulal, Hooshere Bezdikian’s self titled/produced CD has been percolating for several years now in the New York/New Jersey Armenian scene. After a long and multi-tiered process of recording in both New York and Armenia, Hooshere is finally here-ready for mass consumption. A gifted musician since her youth, Hooshere has had classical and jazz vocal training especially throughout here collegiate years. On this disc, she sticks to popular Armenian folk songs and a few original mixed language (English/Armenian) original compositions. While the originals don’t work on this album, the Armenian folk songs do. And very much so. Hooshere made an artistic tactical gamble by taking her amped up trance/new age/R&B sounding finished album and taking it to Armenia to add some more earthy Armenian sounds such as the duduk, kemantcha, blul, and dhol to the mix. The result is a near perfect contemporary world music album that represents the Armenian song to a potentially wide ranging audience. Today’s general world music buying public will fawn over this album as I did the first time I heard it. Hooshere’s voice is strong and versatile with a diva’s attitude that is required for this type of musical material. There are several moments when this album is crackling with the type of raw energy that is rare in today’s Armenian music scene. They occur in “Eem Anush Davigh” and “ Zeenvoree Mor Yerkuh”. Other sublime moments occur in the opening drug hazed track of “Kele Lao” and the classical “Cilicia”. Hooshere possesses that rare combination of deep feeling and understanding for her musical heritage while bringing some serious skill to the table. Kudos to the smart keyboard programming and bass playing on this eye-opening album.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Mal Barsamian- One Take: (Self Produced)

** (Two Stars)

Even before I put this CD into my sound system, I could hear and predict exactly what was going to be on this disc. Mal Barsamian is one of the hardest working men in Armenian-American show business here on the East Coast. He is probably one of the more talented as well. Barsamian’s legend has grown as a gifted clarinet player, guitarist (Masters Degree in Guitar from New England Conservatory), and underrated oudist. If you have been to a “Kef” function in the last 10 years, you have seen and heard Mal Barsamian. Ah, but what to do with that talent on record is indeed another question. One Take is a great showcase for Barsamian’s wide ranging musical talents on different instruments. For example, on the curiously named “Hovivin Aghchigun Medley”, Mal plays the clarinet, oud, dumbeg, and guitar simultaneously overdubbed in the studio. During his solo, Barsamian reminds the listener of a young Khatchig Kazarian of Detroit snake charming his way though “the ride”. Other songs named “Aramite Medley” and “Aramite Special” has guest musicians join Barsamian through the same-old-same-old in terms of songs. (I think Armenian-American musicians have to start inventing new terms to counter the overused “Medley” and “Special” syndrome when naming songs.) The good news and bad news at once regarding One Take is that once you put it on you feel like you are at a picnic or “Kef” dance. You can smell the losh kebab at campgrounds or feel the burn of a vodka tonic with a slight twist of lime going down your throat at an overly crowded portable bar at a hotel with the music in the background. But, that’s a problem for Mal Barsamian because his talent should rise above the mediocre Armo/Turko/Arabo mish-mash of songs on this album and at the functions he performs at. But, alas, he does not. And thus, One Take only frustrates given Barsamian’s immense talent and is comfortably destined for the CD players of folks who have heard these songs one too many times. As the liner notes boast, “Mal has respect for the old traditions while pursuing new musical endeavors.” Here’s hoping we can hear those new musical endeavors on record at some point.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Zulal Armenian A Capella Folk Trio- Zulal (Self Produced)

*** (Three Stars)

In certain Armenian music listening circles, Zulal Armenian A Cappella Folk Trio’s self titled album Zulal was the most anticipated independent release of 2004. On the heels of 18 months of touring and a long winded recording process, we finally can hear on CD what people have been talking about after their concert performances. Consisting of 12 Armenian Folk songs sung in the A Cappella style, what Anais Tekerian, Teni Apelian, and Yeraz Markarian have created here is a smartly arranged and clear collection of tunes that breathes new life into these well worn or underappreciated Armenian classics. This is no easy task going the pure a capella route as there is potentially a lot of room to mess up this repertoire. Though the album is admittedly uneven at times, Zulal gets through each piece with a remarkable conviction and focus in what they are singing and manage to thrill the listener in standout tracks such as “Ghapama” and “Zinch Oo Zinch”. There are other moments of majestic beauty in tracks such as “Es Gisher” and “Ari Im Soghak” that really define what this ensemble is all about. Zulal matches the intensity and intelligence they bring on stage live in concert. It will be interesting to see how they move forward from this very strong debut album. Thus, we all wait again.

Monday, August 22, 2005

BBR- Bambir (Gor Music)

** 1/2(Two and One Half Stars)

OK, let’s get a few things straight before we begin. First, the name of this band is officially BBR. Their album is called Bambir.

BBR is also referred to as Bambir, Bambir 2, or Bambir Kids.

There is another band called Bambir based in Gyumri, Armenia that was formed in 1978. They are the original Bambir and they still perform. Here is their original Quake album. They are now referred to as Bambir The Elders or the Original Bambir. Some of their kids formed a band called BBR, whose record we are reviewing today. On rare occasions BBR and Bambir perform together and call themselves, Bambir.

Got it? Good. Let’s move on, shall we?

BBR is the debut album from the Yerevan/Gyumri based rock band that is currently fast becoming a rock/alt music fan favorite in Armenia. In 2003, they were voted Armenia’s “Best Rock Band”, and in 2005, this very album under review was awarded the Armenian Music Award’s “Best Alternative Folk” honor edging out the owner of their record label, Gor Mkhitarian and his “Episode” CD. Are you still with me?

OK, let’s get down to the music. This CD is the reincarnation of a classic rock era Jethro Tull album. Straight forward rock and roll, a heavy reliance on the flute, and quirky moments here and there. The majority of songs are sung in Armenian with a few attempts at English thrown in for good measure. Let’s start with the obvious; BBR has a distinct style of their own with echoes of their parents Bambir Elder. The flute playing is outstanding with Arik’s fluid and frantic tone. The Ian Anderson connection is unmistakable. Lead singers Arman and Narek sound very similar in approach and style to Jag, the Elder Bambir leader. The song J.B.K. is a mix of Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”, a J.S. Bach piece and a folk song from Komitas all rolled into one. Flutist Arik is again outstanding in tying together three different genres and making the piece flow like water. However, the band shows off its enormous potential in songs such as “Jan Gyulum” with its shvi intro and rollicking rock entry. “Hazaran Blboul” showcases BBR at its best with a collage of instruments and a catchy hook of a melody. “Nursery Rhymes” is flat out hysterical and strangely appealing with it’s child-like rhyme and brief Bambir Quake borrowed theme from their parents. “ The Castle” gives the listener a glimpse of where the band may be headed for in the future with its mature and polished sound. Again, a dead ringer for Bambir the Elder. The songs in English are nice attempts at blending their rock sensibility with the obvious mother tongue of the genre itself. However, they just can’t make it sound convincing.

So, why the average rating? A couple reasons. First, this is no ordinary album. BBR shows enough originality on Bambir to whet the appetite of critics and fans alike. Ultimately, devoting time to the sub par English songs on their first full album and the reliance on emulating the Jethro Tull and Elder Bambir sound so faithfully detracts from developing an original sound. While these collage of sounds and styles may very well work live, which is the current buzz in Yerevan these days, it just does not come through on record. If BBR wants to elevate their game and enter into the ranks of the world music global stage, get rid of the English stuff on record, continue to develop the Armenian material, and keep playing up the wacky strengths. From a reviewer who has been to many a world music festivals, including WOMEX, bad English accents are a quick turnoff and the native tongue is appreciated more.

So, I am in the rare position to recommend an album that I otherwise would not based on potential. Like so many debut albums, you sense you are on to something that just may flourish given some time and experience. BBR Bambir is a very unique listening experience in observing a band struggle to find their true identity. It is that very struggle that makes this one of the most odd and appealing albums I've heard in a while.