Armen Donelian | Solo Piano
- I Will (Lennon/McCartney)
- All of Me (Simons/Marks)
- Solitude (Ellington/DeLange/Mills)
- I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face (Lerner/Loewe)
- Our Day Will Come (Garson/Hilliard)
- Wave (Jobim)
- Here, There and Everywhere (Lennon/McCartney)
Recorded 1998-9, West Orange, NJ
Jazz Improv (2001)
Wave is Volume 1 of a series by Donelian entitled Grand Ideas. The mood here is deliberate and thoughtful, evocative and heartfelt.
A good case in point is "All of Me," transformed from a medium-tempo swing tune into a slow ballad masterpiece, full of surprising twists and turns, nooks and crannies. It is not just reharmonized but re-conceptualized and made new again. For a true jazz artist, the goal of playing standards is to make them sound fresh once more, to recreate the music. Re-creation is ever-present here in ways which are subtle and delightful.
"Solitude" becomes a meditation on Ellington, with Donelian's singing melodies stretching into the outer spheres of tonality. "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" becomes a contemplation on timeless beauty. Throughout the entire recording, Donelian's sense of touch and control is astonishing. His melodies emerge from the keyboard as if magically summoned, and his harmonies and multiple reharmonizations are full of profound depth and insight.
Wave is not about the velocity of swing, but about the gift of masterful musical insights and transformations. It is a mature and gracious musical blessing.
Every lover of standards and every jazz musician seeking to breathe new life into them would do well to listen and study here. Wave is a gem.
- Don Glasgo
Village Voice (2001)
On the pianist's recent album, Wave (Sunnyside), Armen Donelian has pared down his considerable technique in favor of a dramatic lyricism that, in pieces as old-hat as "All of Me" and as unlikely as "Our Day Will Come" and a couple of Beatles ballads, he sustains with controlled and expressive poetry.
- Gary Giddins
Three records of solo piano music from Armenian-American pianist/composer Armen Donelian present three different pictures in this most vulnerable of settings. Wave offers a look at Donelian the stylist doing covers; Mystic Heights is a run through an all-Donelian program; while Full Moon Music is all spontaneous composition. These three volumes constitute his Grand Ideas solo keyboard cycle.
Wave shows something few artists have been able to do: play the standards across generations as if they were all part of one era. The two Beatles selections, “I Will” and “Here, There And Everywhere,” for example, come off sounding like material any jazz musician would cover, exposed without singing, guitar and drums. Either they are good songs or they aren’t. Donelian has patience with the material, playing most of free of tempo, resisting a walking left-hand, musing with blue notes, tossing off casual asides that fit. “The Song Is You” is about melody as much as it is about the line itself. Donelian’s open style is warm and adventurous in subtle ways as he rearranges the song’s structure.
Mystic Heights moves in other circles, namely the world of Donelian’s pen. Like Wave, there are eight tunes, but this time he is further afield from a jazz impulse. A folk sensibility comes through, with an almost recital-like quality pervading songs like “Ode” and “Exiled Dreams,” the composer leaning on his song structure like an old friend. There is a simplicity to his style that threatens to undermine any distinctive qualities: Technique-laden frills, spills and chills are nowhere to be heard. Instead, we’re treated to measured, deeply felt playing, with a generally gentle yet fluid touch. Some tunes, like the florid “Devotion,” have a lullaby quality despite the flurries.
Full Moon Music is a meshing of influences and moods, more like animated suspension. Given the totally improvised nature of the music, that’s not surprising. The open-ended, unresolved nature of most of the music means more minor chords, split-ends, so to speak. The darker qualities don’t translate into atonality, but the title alone should suggest Donelian has moved away from the tuneful muses of the first two volumes. This most recent one, more classical in nature, is more interesting if less satisfying.
– John Ephland