Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble
The Armenian Forum
"The Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble, drawing upon the semiotic powers of music, has recently released a powerful recording of Armenian music dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. In many ways, the message of the recording is twofold: it stands in testimony to an Armenia that no longer exists, yet, with its repeated allusions to the sun (arev in Armenian) and daybreak, provides hope for a new beginning. Arev's task here is not a simple one, for all too often these sorts of ambitions fall prey to hackneyed, commonplace evocations of grief and mourning - cheap tricks in exchange for your tears. However, the skillful Arev ensemble approaches the recording with a refreshing dignity and aplomb that takes the listener on a journey through indigenous Armenian music in its purest state, free from the common infusions of Russian, Turkish, and Arabic elements that only remind one of oppressors past. Under the direction of Martin Haroutunian, the Massachusetts-based Arev ensemble displays remarkable talent and ingenuity in the interpretation of the cherished folk songs on the recording. The main instruments on display - the duduk, zurna, dhol, and ud - in addition to other traditional Armenian instruments, receive the most virtuosic treatment in the able hands of Haroutunian, John Kozelian, Markos Shahbazyan, and Garo Der Hagopian. Ani Zargarian leads the vocals with a well-controlled voice free of overwrought embellishment, yet capable of a range of affects, from heart-rending yearning to the most joyous calls of celebration. Beautiful depth is provided by the adroit harmonies of background vocalist Tamar Melkonian." - Sylvia Alajaji
The Armenian Weekly
Raffi Meneshian, CEO and Founder of Pomegranate Records writes: "The self-titled recording debut of the Arev Folk Ensemble is an ambitious project that attempts to pay homage to up-tempo classic Armenian folk songs with (surprise, surprise) real Armenian folk instruments. ...the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble is a welcome entry into the current Armenian music market. While many semi-professional Armenian musical ensembles have been long on ambition and short on talent, Arev challenges that notion with a thought-provoking and ultimately satisfying album. ...I must admit that the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble caught me a bit flat-footed. Assuming it was just another mediocre Armenian-American attempt at capturing folk music that no longer really exists in present day Armenia, this disc proved that Armenian musical fire still exists. ...the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble wears their heart on its sleeve...and in the process have created a dignified and daring debut."
(The full review is available in "The Armenian Weekly" Vol. 69 No. 17)
Arev Ensemble Releases Debut Recording
By Christian Garbis
A phenomenal collection of Armenian folk and patriotic songs has just been released. Performed by the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble, the recording is self produced and is being promoted by the Hamazkayin Cultural and Educational Association.
The musical director of Arev Ensemble and founding member is Martin Haroutunian, who has studied music in Armenia and is featured on duduk, shvi, and zurna, among other classical Armenian instruments. Haroutunian has been playing in the Boston area for several years and is perhaps the only expert duduk performer in the Greater Boston Armenian community. He is accompanied by the talented Garo Der Hagopian on duduk and zurna.
The Arev Ensemble has been performing together for nearly three years and has undergone several manifestations, including a guitarist and keyboardist in its mix. The version of Arev Ensemble on this recording features six musicians: Haroutunian, Der Hagopian, Ani Zargarian on vocals, Tamar Melkonian on backup vocals, John Kozelian on oud, and Markos Shabazyan on dhol.
Arev practices regularly at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center (ACEC) in Watertown and has taken the Armenian community by storm, having initially been featured at the ACEC's weekly summer venue Café Anoush and various appearances around the Boston area.
One of the ensemble's most notable performances was during a special First Armenian Republic Independence Day event in May 2001, in honor of the republic's leader Aram Manoogian. The group gave one of its first public concerts to an enthusiastic and emotionally charged audience.
Possibly the most notable performer of the Arev Ensemble (although all the ensemble's musicians are skilled) is vocalist Zargarian. Her emotional, vibrant performances add excitement and vigor to the overall expressive force of the group. Her rendition of classic melodies is superb, and she brings a uniqueness to these frequently recorded tunes. She is beautifully accompanied by background vocalist Melkonian, who proves to be the perfect match for Zargarian's eloquence.
Most of the songs in the collection are patriotic, although there are traditional folk melodies as well, such as "Taroni Yerger," a medley of songs from the Mush and Sasun areas of Western Armenia. A highlight is the ballad "Mi Bala" by Gusan Sheram. Zargarian's captivating voice is especially prevalent on this lovely piece accompanied by Haroutunian's shvi and Kozelian's oud duet--an unorthodox but serene-sounding arrangement.
Another notable piece is the modern patriotic tune "Getashen," inspired by the self-defense fighters of the Armenian town during the Karabagh liberation struggle. "Antsnink Sasun" is a lively, dhol-driven rendition of the patriotic classic.
Haroutunian's and Der Hagopian's feats in playing the demanding zurna, possibly the most breathtaking and rebel-rousing instrument of classical Armenian music, are simply not well demonstrated on this disc. We can only hope (and overwhelmingly request) that Arev features much longer pieces on their next recording.
The self-titled debut recording of the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble is a great presentation, and this compact disc is an absolute must for Armenian music collectors or newcomers to the rich harmonies of Armenian folk songs.