This weekend, the Armenian Food Festival returns to St. James Armenian Church in Richmond. Local oudist Raffi Bandazian and his Narod Ensemble will be performing seven sets in two different arrangements over the course of the four day festival.
This weekend, the Armenian Food Festival returns to St. James Armenian Church in Richmond. Local oudist Raffi Bandazian and his Narod Ensemble will be performing seven sets in two different arrangements over the course of the four day festival. His duo with guitarist Justin Smith performs each afternoon, and his ensemble of himself, Smith, Dan Smither (bass), Sam Sherman (drums), and Mary Lawrence Hicks (flugelhorn), hits on three of the evenings. Click here for the full entertainment schedule, or look for the Narod Ensemble listings on the RVAjazz calendar.
Bandazian says of the music’s Armenian roots:
The name Narod comes from the Armenian wedding tradition. Traditionally, a “Narod” is a multicolored thread, headband that is worn by the bride and groom during a wedding ceremony. It has since been placed with a crown or a gold colored thread.
What we are striving for is to take traditional Armenian Folk music, drop it into an improvised environment, and see what happens. We have Oud, Flugelhorn, Guitar, Bass, and Drums, none of which are traditionally Armenian instruments, but our source material is Armenian. (My background is Armenian and Greek) …This is a sound I have long been after. This gig is hopefully the first of many in the area.
And it is indeed a food festival:
As for the food, it’s very similar to other middle eastern cuisine, but without being biased as far as festivals, ours blows away the Greek and Lebanese. Our folks make all our food by hand. Come see. Come hungry. You won’t be disappointed. And we take credit cards in case you need to blast your wallet out!
This festival happens to coincide with my continuing exposure to Armenian/American jazz artists. Whether the Armenian influence is a new development in stateside jazz, I do not know. Readers of this blog know I was blown away when I first heard 22-year-old Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan’s newest album Red Hail. WRIR listeners will attest that I play something from his album each and every time I go on the air. Friends probably wish I would stop talking about him. (Red Hail on Amazon)
Raffi just introduced me to Armenian pianist Vardan Ovsepian, and the similarities between what little I’ve heard so far and Tigran’s most recent music are outstanding. Mysterious (to western ears) melodies often rely on cascading third intervals and are doubled in unison by the voice and another instrument, like saxophone or guitar. Songs tend to follow a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure that contemporary music is based on; the beautiful melodies are always worth hearing again, and improvisations don’t occur until two or three minutes into a piece because of it. There is a persistently haunting vibe to much of the music, due perhaps to foreign (again, to western ears) harmonies and the melodies that determine them.
And talk about contemporary rhythm: vocalist Sara Serpa in the first video is backed by Tyshawn Sorey, the most adventurous and creative drummer on the scene today and master of jagged rhythms and legato meditations alike. Tigran’s song “Falling” is based around a fast and chaotic breakbeat by Nate Wood on drums and Tigran on voice.
(Notes: 1. Serpa doesn’t exhibit the strongest pitch control in the video, but look past it to her gorgeous composition and pianist Ovsepian’s contributions. 2. The two videos are not meant to be evidence of the similarities between the two artists. Hopefully they will show two sides of Armenian jazz being created today.)
Sara Serpa, Andre Matos, Vardan Ovsepian, Chris Tordini and Tyshawn Sorey
Tigran Hamasyan’s Aratta Rebirth: Areni Agbabian, Nate Wood, Sam Minaie, Ben Wendel
On a non-Armenian oud-related note, Canadian Gordon Grdina’s albums have their moments. His latest album, Gordon Grdina’s East Van Strings The Breathing of Statues, is for electric guitar, oud, and string trio. Free Jazz Stef’s assessment of Grdina’s last two albums is right on the mark. I remarked on Twitter in August, “Stunning, powerful compositions…inspired largely by Bartok.”
Anybody have any Armenian musicians to share?