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November 1998

Night Ark
In Wonderland
Verve

Combining the gangly, on-the-road lyric quality of American folk-pop with the needling, raw texture and melodic twists of the Middle East in a decidedly jazzy base is the remarkable quartet Night Ark, led by Ara Dinkjian, one of the world's foremost experts on oud, cumbus, and other traditional Armenian instruments. In Wonderland (Verve/Emarcy 314 534 4712; 47:41) brings this seemingly strange combination of styles to brilliant life through universally accessible, highly illustrative arrangements. Dinkjian wields his oud-a fretless lute which helped beget the guitar- as a raw, plucky voice on tunes like "Very Nice," with its jazzy bass walk and accelerating piano runs backgrounded by crashing Middle Eastern percussion, and "They Love Me 15 Feet Away," where he complements a hybrid vocalese/piano melody, lending a feeling of loneliness. The Middle Eastern traditional elements also lend contrast to pieces like "Is That How Loving You Goes," which pits a strong-stringed Armenian melody against the smooth, modern tones of a synthesizer. Other selections-like "Lullabye for the Sun"-take advantage of elemental, mystical qualities. In every case, the pieces are seamlessly interwoven, adding unique textures to melodies that every listener can relate to.

Originally published in November 1998
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