Aram Bajakian – Aram Bajakian's Kef (2011)

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Listening to the guitarist Aram Bajakian is lot like listening to Marc Ribot, and Aram follows much of Ribot’s wildly divergent style that incorporates the vintage forms of swing, punk and rock and roll into a fresh and daring style. So it’s fair to state that if you like Ribot, you’re gonna like Bajakian, too.

That’s enough for me to like Bajakian, too, but Bajakian goes beyond being “just another” Ribot. He devoted a lot of study toward music halfway around the globe from his Brooklyn hometown, soaking of the musical cultures of West Africa, India, Morocco and Armenia. Bajakian’s diverse and risk taking style has found a home with such well-known performers as Yusef Lateef, Darius Jones, Mike Pride and Hugh Masekela; just this month he’s been touring Europe with Lou Reed’s band. Bajakian also leads his own groups that range in style from afro punk to RnB/blues. And then there’s this latest project of his, called Kef.

Kef is a trio like no other trio: Bajakian plays guitar, Shanir Blumenkranz mans the acoustic bass and Tom Swafford is on violin. That makes it a little different, but playing traditional Armenian songs with an American avant-rock flair pushes things well beyond convention. To Bajakian, this isn’t a path chosen just to be different; it’s a logical merge of his surroundings with his heritage. And this group’s debut album, simply entitled Aram Bajakian’s Kef, feels that way, too.

I was immediately drawn to the passionate thrash of “Sepastia,” (Youtube below) as the grungy guitar and temperamental violin combine to bring two worlds violently together. That was inspiring enough on its own to write a One Track Mind article about but then I discovered the more discreet treasures of the other songs. “Pear Tree” is Bajakian alone on acoustic guitar and it’s a pretty melody that he shrewdly plays without any unnecessary embellishments. “Laz Bar” is a delicate dance paced by Blumenkranz’s nimble bass. Bajakian’s guitar incorporates the gypsy spirit of Django Reinhardt, but avoiding copying his approach and sticking with his own, distorted voice. “Wroclaw” has a baseline and violin parts that clearly comes from a crossroads of Europe and Asia, but Bajakian keeps evoking Link Wray. And you know what, it sounds right.

“Karasalama” prances along very similar to a fast moving classical piece, demonstrating the band’s ability to pilot around tricky melodies. The closing song “La Rota” explores a more dreamy texture, offering a gentle alternative to the sharp-angled, sometimes abrasive cuts, Most of these twelve tracks are only two-three minutes long, essentially comprising of ideas that the trio keeps concise and not unnecessarily long.

Kef, therefore, is exotic, but deeply rooted in the traditions of cultures from very different places and very different times. Aram Bajakian’s Kef is the bridge that brings the two together with informed arrangements and snappy musicianship.

As part of John Zorn’s Spotlight Series intended to highlight exciting new acts from New York’s vital improv music scene, Aram Bajakian’s Kef is out today on Tzadik Records. Visit Aram Bajakian’s website.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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