Traditional Dances of Armenia - Armenian Lullabies
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Shoghaken Ensemble
Traditional Dances of Armenia
Hasmik Harutyunyan with the Shoghaken Ensemble
Armenian Lullabies
Both titles Traditional Crossroads (www.traditionalcrossroads.com)

cd cover To listen to Armenian roots music is to get a feel, even if only on an innate level, of the rich and complex history of this small but steadfast country. While legend says that Armenians are descended from one of the sons of Noah, the fact of the matter is that the region (presently surrounded by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia) has been settled for about 90 centuries. The last 90 years were marked by Armenia's near-demise at the hands of genocidal Ottoman Turks early on as well as its emergence as an independent nation-state following the dissolving of the Soviet Union. An Armenian diaspora is today scattered among Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, and Armenian music, perhaps most closely associated with the sound of the duduk (a flute carved from the wood of the apricot tree), is slowly making a name for itself outside of its own ethnic demographic. The duduk has recently been heard in the work of such artists as Peter Gabriel, on movie soundtracks and as an integral part of Yo-Yo Ma's commissioned pieces celebrating the music of the Silk Road.

cd cover
Listen!
It is central to the sound of the Shoghaken Ensemble, whose music is also rich with the sound of other stringed and wind instruments (kanon, kamancha, ud, blul, shvi) that exist in variant forms in the nearby Middle Eastern regions and, in the case of the Traditional Dances album, the crackle of the dhol drum. When they say traditional, they mean traditional. Many of Armenia's dances are rooted in very ancient pagan/polytheistic history, honed over the centuries by adapting Christianity, social class distinctions and the influences of adjacent cultures. The dances are described in great detail in the extensive liner notes, and the richness of the music provides a sizable hint as to how very vivid and celebratory they must be. Mostly instrumentals, the tunes leap, whirl and kick in much the same way as festive Arabic or Celtic sounds, giving your ears, heart and mind repeated ecstatic jolts ocassionally tempered by slower selections like the hauntingly gripping "Shatakhi Dzernapar." Urgent vocals surface here and there, making a good thing even better. On the Lullabies disc, the instrumental backing is naturally more atmospheric and vocalist Hasmik Harutyunyan (whose range is partially evident on the Dances CD) moves to the fore. For lullabies, these sound pretty somber and serious, but their beauty brings on the desired lulling effect in gentle, whispery waves that seem to make time stand still.

Both these collections, contrastingly and in tandem, resound with music that sheds new light on one of earth's longest lasting and most interesting cultures. - Tom Orr

Both CDs are available at cdRoots


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