Sunnyside Records (SSC 1049)

Armen Donelian | Piano
Dick Oatts | Soprano & Tenor Saxophones
Barry Danielian | Trumpet & Flügelhorn
Anthony Cox | Bass
Bill Stewart | Drums
Arto Tunçboyaciyan | Percussion & Voice

  1. To Waltz Or Not To... (Findikoglu)
  2. Jungle Groove (Donelian)
  3. The Wayfarer (Donelian)
  4. Chelsea Bridge (Strayhorn)
  5. Stargazer (Donelian)
  6. The Scattered Brotherhood (Donelian)
  7. In Between (Donelian)
  8. Celebration (Donelian)


Recorded January, 1990 at A&R Studio, New York, NY


Downbeat (1991) ** 3-1/2 stars **

The post-cool impressionism of Miles' mid-'60s quintet remains a key influence on the modern mainstream, but musicians draw different lessons from that model. Like Wynton's quintet or quartet and Harrison/Blanchard, Donelian's unit has one of those rhythm sections that approach the pulse three different ways without letting it slip away. But The Wayfarer doesn't sound quite like anything from the Blakey-trained leaders named above dish up, because Donelian has a different perspective--his is more a composer's than improviser's music. 

Armen's previous Sunnyside with the same quintet--1988's Secrets--only hints at the new album's warmth and cohesion. Like Miles, Barry Danielian (no relation to the leader) has a plaintive, distant tone, employs minimal vibrato, and chooses his notes with care. On the heads he blends seamlessly with Oatts, whose brawny tenor sound here bears a curious resemblance to Gary Thomas' (evidence not of one influencing the other, but of ideas in the air available to all who choose to use them). 

Still, it's Donelian's writing that hooks you: for "Jungle Groove" and "The Scattered Brotherhood" he yokes his left hand to Cox's bass, to give the music an uncommonly sturdy spine. (Cox and drummer Stewart so deftly nail the fast 11/4 of Emin Findikoglu's "To Waltz Or Not," you don't nervously count along.) On "The Wayfarer" and "Stargazer," Donelian uses Tunboyaci's high, clear choirboy voice as the third horn; Arto is the only 'horn' on the effectively moody "In Between," which unfolds slowly in the manner of Paul Bley's radical ballads--Donelian trusts wide open space, declining to fill the sonic vacuum he creates.

A couple of tunes are merely okay, and Armen's long solo on Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" lacks the focus of the sextet stuff, but The Wayfarer's best pieces are downright haunting. (reviewed on CD)

- Kevin Whitehead


Lawrence Journal World (1990)

Armen Donelian is a provocative modernist whose galvanizing abstractions are buoyed by swirling, rhythmic undercurrents, a reflection of a varied background that includes pivotal stints with two of contemporary music's most profound keepers of the pulse, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and Latin percussionist Mongo Santamaria. Here, Donelian fleshes his lean and steely compositions with a sextet of New York pros, bassist Anthony Cox, trumpeter Barry Danielian, saxophonist Dick Oatts, drummer Bill Stewart and percussionist Arto Tunboyaci. Donelian's mastery of writing for small group is startling. And whether an undaunting mysterioso like "Jungle Groove" or an insinuating, seamless mix of tempos as in "The Wayfarer," Donelian distills his compositional elements into frames that stand by themselves; the are also effective points of departure for Donelian's soloing talents, as well as those of his companions. Donelian's sextet music is exceptional, and every bit the equal of the classic horn-and-rhythm units of Art Blakey and Horace Silver.

- Chuck Berg


Hyde Park Citizen (1990)

Donelian's music is thoughtful and exciting. A tonal painter with an ear for ancient melody and vivid color, Donelian's monastic advances conjure up so many areas of human involvement and emotion. From the Middle Eastern mystique of "Celebration" to the Afro-American folk blues resolve of "Chelsea Bridge." His "Jungle Groove" is a continuation of the dark melodic conception of his previous release "Secrets." It is almost a signature composition. In fact Donelian is joined by the same group from the date two years ago in Barry Danielian (no relation), Dick Oatts, Bill Stewart, Arto Tunboyaci and bassist Anthony Cox, who is a competent, zestful and completely knowledgeable accompanist. He has a deep dark, full bodied buoyancy and his rhythmic and harmonic execution is impeccable. A world class talent. There is a statuesque regality in Armen Donelian's music. First of all he's a story teller and I'd love to hear this group "live" to feel the weaving tapestry of his fables. They swing the living daylights out of "The Scattered Brotherhood" and divvy up the rest to complete satisfaction. A must recording.

- Lofton A. Emenari. III


Cadence (1991)

On this, the second date by this group under Donelian's leadership (see 3/89, p. 78, as well as 4/87, p. 69; 5/89, pg. 81) he has produced a Euro-Asian soundscape located at the point where the Miles Davis Quintet of the sixties intersects with Weather Report. It's music as much concerned with ensemble atmospherics and color as solos with improvisations stretched over harmonically dark, polyrhythmic vamps--a tour de force of small ensemble arranging. Donelian effectively blends Arto Tunboyaci's voice with the horns in theme statements, in background during solos, and as the lead. Bassist Cox and drummer Stewart also deserve much credit for contributing to the color of the music without ever letting the time, no manor how oddly divided, loosen. Donelian has linked the songs with similar textures, but each retains its individuality. It would be inaccurate to describe the horn players, Danielian and Oatts, as a front line, because their sounds are just part of the shifting patterns within the sextet. On "Jungle Groove" they lock into, some inspired collective interplay. In other spots Danielian provides dark Milesian horn to Oatts' Trane-Shorter sounding tenor and soprano. The ties to the sixties Miles group are most evident on "The Scattered Brotherhood," the most conventionally structured of the ensemble pieces. All hands step out to blow after the quickfire, snakey line. The piece also includes the leader's best solo of the date. His solo piano version of "Chelsea Bridge," however, stalls the program. Though he shifts rhythmic patterns, the performance doesn't take shape and sounds more like a rumination on the tune in preparation for arranging it. "In Between" for quartet without horns also, in part, lacks the concision of the rest of the program. The eerie, Eastern theme sung by Tunboyaci takes up too much time in its recapitulation, stretching the performance a minute and a half beyond this listener's interest. But the middle of the piece has excellent interplay by the rhythm section. This is important work. The trajectory of Donelian's career promises more to come. This set is an excellent place to start listening.

- David Dupont


Jazz Hot (France, 1990)

The first CD by his sextet scored a bull's eye, and one is reminded once again of the extraordinary and fervent climate of "Secrets," which Armen Donelian cut for Sunnyside in 1988. He does it again with "The Wayfarer," (same label, distribution by Harmonia Mundi), which lines up the same gang of lyrical players: Dick Oatts (ss, ts); Barry Danielian (tp, flg), Arto Tunboyaci (perc), Anthony Cox (b), and Bill Stewart (dms). Give Donelian a little, he gives back a hundred-fold...


(Unknown source) (France) (1990)

The music on this CD alternates between superb post-bop ensemble playing, in which the brilliant solos of the horn players are reinforced by the percussion of Tunboyaci, and the rendition of more meditative themes, which are close to the spirit of the "Night Ark" quartet in which Armen Donelian also participated. Donelian offers here an intense, haunting music which confirms his still too little-known compositional talents, as well as his quality of piano playing, evidenced by his interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge." 

This tribute to the pianist-arranger is without a doubt far from innocent, as is the choice of theme, which alludes to the "bridge." One can suppose that "bridge" refers to the one that Donelian builds between East and West, without falling into the pit of "world music." It is a bridge between the rhythmic complexities and melodies of Middle Eastern music and the fire of improvisations and arrangements of a hard-bop heritage either displayed or just underlying the surface.

- Thierry Qunum


Monde de la Musique (France) (1990)

...Has the allure of chamber music while still preserving the resources of a powerful drive...The world of Armen Donelian is irreducible in the game of influences, as in the crystal clear images which constitute his solo interpretation of "Chelsea Bridge." The ear is never left to amuse itself, so great is the diversity of the written and improvised works and the coherence of the repertory which guides us from beginning to end in a permanent state of wonder.

- Franck Berger