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World Music CD Reviews Jazz

THE ARMENIAN JAZZ BAND

By RAFFI MENESHIAN
Published April 7, 2006

Mountain Dance
Narek.com NCR

Starband
Narek.com Records NCR

While Armenia is known for serious, soulful and oftentimes mournful music, she has a lighter side as well. Oddly enough, jazz is one of the most popular forms of music in this former Soviet republic. Recorded jazz from Armenia has never sounded better than it does in the form of Armen Martirosyan’s Armenian Jazz Band album series. Martirosyan’s ensemble is made up of trumpets, saxes, trombones, drums and a whole host of other standard Western big band instruments. Mixed with traditional Armenian folk instruments such as the duduk, zourna, shvi and dhol, the Armenian Jazz Band explodes off the disc to the tune of Armenian folk songs and original Martirosyan compositions. The Mountain Dance CD sounds like a cross between Benny Goodman’s songs and a Djivan Gasparian duduk album. Like peanut butter and chocolate, the mix is improbably delicious. This successful mix is exemplified best on the track “Eastern Blues.” On Starband, the AJB ensemble uses its trademark sound to back different Armenian guest vocalists such as Aramo and his very funky version of the Armenian Folk song, “Ninar.” These discs provide an excellent window into contemporary Armenian musical culture.