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Akunc by Vardan Ovsepian

The term "third stream" was invented by composer Gunther Schuller in 1957 to describe the (then new) jazz subgenre that consists of the mixing of jazz and classical music. It was a movement whose growth was stifled by the advent of avant-garde and, sadly, it hasn’t progressed very much since. However, over the past few years there have been an increasing number of artists contributing some significant works in this style.

One of the latest is pianist Vardan Ovsepian’s "Akunc". Ovsepian was born in Armenia and began studying piano at the age of five. He was originally inspired by the music of Chopin, Liszt, Bach and Keith Jarrett and pursued a major in classical composition at the Yerevan State Conservatory before moving on to study contemporary composition at the Estonian Music Academy. Still thirsting for knowledge, in 1995 he moved to Finland to attend the Helsinki Jazz Academy and a couple of years later finally realized his dream of moving to the United States when he was awarded a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College Of Music.

Ovsepian graduated from Berklee in 2000 and in four short years has been making quite a name for himself teaching, performing and recording. "Akunc" is his third album as a leader. On this recording he is joined by Joshua Davis on bass, Take Toriyama on drums, Agnieszka Dziubak on cello and vocalist Monica Yngvesson.

The music presented here (most of it composed by Ovsepian) is mainly modal in structure - with minimal chord changes and solos that are played over vamps created by looping four-, eight- or twelve-bar patterns. However, in spite of the lack of harmonic movement, the music is very alive and involved. The band is excellent and even though their individual parts might seem simple at first listen, closer examination reveals how intricate their playing is and how enormously talented they had to be to play at this level.

Ovsepian’s piano takes the majority of the solos and his playing is intelligent and inspired. I hear more classical in his approach than jazz, but that’s not a criticism, just an observation. There is no doubt that he has the technical ability to play anything and maybe it’s only the fact that this album doesn’t swing as much as a bebop recording would that causes me to hear it that way. But of course, it wasn’t meant to swing. What it does, and does very successfully, is integrate jazz and classical into a form of music that is simultaneously cerebral and soothing. I was also impressed with the way he employed Yngvesson’s vocals - having her sing tones instead of words and therefore making her sound more like a non-vocal instrument.

"Akunc" is an adventurous, well-executed project bound to find a spot in the collections of many jazz and classical fans, alike.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Vardan Ovsepian
  • CD Title: Akunc
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Fresh Sound Records
  • Tracks: Akunc, First Light, Quenchless, Within and Around, Voloran, Stiltje, Tuning, Arahet, Suerte de Muleta, Residue
  • Musicians: Vardan Ovsepian (piano), Joshua Davis (bass), Take Toriyama (drums), Agnieszka Dziubak (cello), Monica Yngvesson (voice)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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