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Armen Donelian Trio: Oasis

Armen Donelian’s résumé is wide and deep, as leader, sideman, author, educator and (as a Fulbright Senior Scholar) cultural ambassador to Armenia, the land of his ancestors. Fortunately, when Donelian sits down to make a piano trio record (Oasis is his 11th), he does not wear his academic erudition or his ethnicity or even his chops on his sleeve. Instead he blends his influences into a seamless, balanced whole. Oasis quickly establishes a high level of musical discourse and never falters from it. Donelian’s poise makes everything sound measured and unhurried. Even on a fast, hard waltz like “Sans Souci,” his instinct is to slow it and gather it for thoughtful inspection.

His sweet spot is a particular, springy slow-to-mid-tempo, like the title track and “Lady of Ghent.” They are two of the six originals here, all fresh, elegant forms that retain their shapeliness even as Donelian freely embellishes them, his right hand often flowing into luminous treble cascades.

But the clearest evidence of Donelian’s compositional creativity may be his cover of “Django.” The first 3 1/2 minutes are an excursion far from it, retaining only the dramatic anticipation of John Lewis’ elegy. It is like a release of breath when the famous melody finally emerges.

Originally Published