Thursday, May 2, 2019

Areni Agbabian – Bloom (ECM, 2019) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

I came to Bloom practically blind. I had never listened to Areni Agbabian before. Apart from the characteristic ECM glossy production, I really was not sure what to expect.

Agbabian is a California-native now living in New York who, from a young age, has been steeped in Armenian musical and folkloric traditions. Given her diverse embrace of Caucasian folk music, contemporary jazz, and new music as well as her use of unsettling folktales (“The Water Bride”), I am still not exactly sure how to interpret her. It may be that this type of music is simply not in my wheelhouse. (And, if Agbabian is at all representative, that is an unfortunate oversight on my part.) That said, it might also be because of her own talents as a singer, pianist, and composer, and her refined eclecticism. Her vocals are at times experimental (“The River”) verging on operatic scatting, and at others, hymnic and haunting (“Mother”). Her piano is repetitive, minimalist, and delicate. Some pieces are melodically driven. Others explore resonance and spacious harmonies. Regardless, the compositions hold in common a spaciousness and fragile potency. Songs tend to be concise, all except the opening track (aptly titled “Patience: I. Patience Is More Important Now…/II. A Time To Be With You As A Time To Pray”) coming in at under five minutes and most under four. This allows for each song to be a concentrated statement, whether a succinct study of tone and timbre (for instance, listen to “Aganim Arachi Ko,” a composition by Agbabian, and its traditional counterpart “Aganim Revisited”), a brief meditation on minimalist intertwining percussion (“Light Effect” and “Colored”), or an investigation of eerily patient melodicism (“Full Bloom”). It also allows this album to progress at a concerted, steady pace and tell a story (be it sorrowful, wistful, or nostalgic) of fragmented memories slowly mulled over, reconstructed, and reinterpreted. The result is a collection of tracks that reside somewhere in that hauntingly beautiful space between loss and remembrance, between peace and unease, between quiet dormancy and vibrant bloom. Highly recommended.

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