January 29, 2014 - 13:59 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator Armen Donelian and his trio will be performing the music from Sayat-Nova: Songs Of My Ancestors at two CD release shows in April: at Tenri Cultural Institute of New York (April 4, 7:30pm); and Castle Street Café, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, (April 27, 4pm), the New York Armenian Students Association said.
Donelian has carved out an enviable career spanning four decades, including seminal stints with Jazzmen Sonny Rollins, Billy Harper, Chet Baker, and Mongo Santamaria. But two other streams – Classical and Middle Eastern music – have influenced Donelian’s artistic direction. His new double album Sayat-Nova: Songs Of My Ancestors, his tenth release for Sunnyside, due for release April 1, combines these divergent paths into a work of stunning cohesion and sonic beauty and further elevates Donelian’s status as an improvising artist of the highest order.
As both a solo pianist and leader for nine years of a working trio (heard on Oasis, also on Sunnyside) with David Clark and George Schuller, Donelian focuses here on the quintessential and exquisite songs of the 18th Century Armenian troubadour, Sayat-Nova (1712-1792). Sayat-Nova’s verses have been compared to Shakespeare’s and his melodies rank with those of the greatest European composers. For generations, Sayat-Nova has been revered throughout the Middle East as a musician, composer, poet and even philosopher.
“As a child,” Donelian says, “the sounds of Middle Eastern, European Classical and American Jazz records were continually present in our multicultural household. These three threads form the tapestry of Sayat-Nova: Songs Of My Ancestors. Integrating them into a single coherent work is the realization of my lifelong aspiration. I am proud to present it to a broader public.”
Preserving every detail of Sayat-Nova’s melodies, Donelian further redefines them both as a solo performer and with his cohorts, with one CD fully dedicated to each musical format. Using an alchemy of contemporary Jazz harmony and exuberant polyrhythm, Donelian polishes his 21st Century interpretations with an elegant and spacious Classical aesthetic that has identified his distinctive pianism and artistic vision since his 1975 debut with Santamaria.
One explanation for the trio’s profound affinity for Donelian’s music is that he shares significant history with these players. His collaboration with veteran bassist David Clark stretches back to 1993, when they first met as colleagues at the Interplay Summer Jazz Camp. While touring with the 1980’s Middle East-Jazz fusion group, Night Ark, led by oudist Ara Dinkjian, Donelian met drummer/producer George Schuller whose group Orange Then Blue shared the same concert stage.