Cascade Folk Trio,
Old Street
(Bandaz, 2003)

Emerging from what must have been one of the most traumatic centuries in its 5,000-year-long history, Armenia is witnessing another musical renaissance that is spreading way beyond its borders.

Located in the mountainous Caucasus region, this ancient nation has always been at the crossroads of civilizations from East and West. It has had to contend with Persian, Byzantine, Turkish and Russian interventions, but throughout these tribulations the Armenians have managed to retain their own unique cultural legacy -- although they have often been forced to do so in exile. Here they survived thanks to a unique combination of business acumen, linguistic flair and a single-minded determination to preserve their heritage. In the process the Armenian diaspora has produced talents as diverse as Charles Aznavour and Cher.

To this we can now add the Cascade Folk Trio. Named after a famous lovers' spot in the capital Yerevan, the trio consists of composer Arman Aghajanyan, lyricist Ohanna Mtghyan and arranger Armen Papkiyan. Having made names for themselves as individual musicians, they teamed up in New York City, where they had settled down in the course of the 1990s when Armenia was again plagued by political instability.

Cascade Folk Trio sees it as its mission to promote Armenian music by blending it with contemporary influences from the outside.

Nine of the album Old Street's compositions are original creations, but themes and arrangements have been drawn from traditional music. The authentic character is further augmented by using typical Armenian instrumentation: kanun, zurna and dhol feature prominently on this CD. However, central stage in the instrumental accompaniment is taken by the duduk, an oboe-like reed instrument, which has been revived by young masters like Gevorg Dabaghyan (see my review of his CD Miniatures). Its plaintive sound has been further popularized in the West thanks to the unlikely combination of Peter Gabriel and the TV series Xena, Warrior Princess.

Old Street is dominated by two themes: love stories and yearning for a past that has disappeared. The opening number, "Gently Boy, Graceful Girl," sets the tone for the amorous part, while the album's title song transposes the listener into a melancholic atmosphere conjured up by memories of the now lost familiar surroundings of childhood. A combination of the two is achieved in one of the most powerful compositions: "Where is My Love?" Other numbers like "Seven Years" have a much more upbeat and contemporary panache. Old Street is closed with "Homeland," a duet of Arman Aghajanyan and Ohanna Mthgyan accompanied by an interesting combination of traditional instruments and a techno-beat.

With Old Street, this expatriate trio has succeeded in striking a balance between traditional Armenian and contemporary music that will appeal also to listeners outside the Armenian community.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 5 February 2005

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