April 19, 2014 - 15:13 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - New York-based jazz pianist Armen Donelian’s new album “Sayat Nova: Songs of My Ancestors” was released on April 15, nine days before the 99th memorial of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, The Armenian Weekly reported.
The album pays tribute to the 18th-century Armenian poet and troubadour’s revered original melodies, but does not shy away from more modern influences, most notably, mainstream jazz and classical music.
Having arrived in Armenia for the first time in 1998 as a performer at Yerevan’s First International Jazz Festival, Donelian saw a unique opportunity and applied for a Fulbright Research Grant to return for a more extended period. Despite immediate obstacles, ranging from basic language barriers to more complex ideological ones, Donelian’s return in 2002 saw him teaching the first formal course in American jazz, bebop style piano at Yerevan’s Komitas State Conservatory. He brought with him resources for jazz pedagogy and started a small jazz library in the conservatory at a time when, as he puts it, “materials had a tendency to disappear.” His time in Armenia has made an impact on not only his own personal musical aspirations, but also on current generations of Armenian musicians.
Donelian’s humility and appreciation for what Sayat Nova’s legacy represents to the Armenian community is apparent in the album’s booklet, he says. “I did not change this music. It changed me.”
The incubation period for the album has been several years in the making, evident in Donelian’s skillful arrangements, The Armenian Weekly said. Those for solo piano and jazz combo reflect a lifetime of musical encounters in and outside the realm of Armenian music. Some of the tracks on the album take on a highly classical character, as in “Tamam Ashkhar Bdood Eka,” which incorporates a wide range of 20th-century stylistic textures. Other songs, like “Tekouz Koo Kashn Markrit Tan,” draw heavily from Afro-Cuban elements, reminiscent of his time playing in Mongo Santamaria’s New York City jazz band in the 70’s. The album consists of two discs, with the second containing tunes arranged for jazz trio (piano, bass, and drums).