Armenian by birth, Bostonian by choice, this 47-year-old pianist/composer offers music that is pleasingly challenging while remaining grounded in the modern mainstream tradition. Although the classically-trained Azarian’s playing shows a debt to Keith Jarrett (including the occasional vocal punctuations), the latter’s influence is assimilated with that of other pianists, certain classical approaches and Armenian sources into a unique, non-imitative style. As that and the three Porter, Gershwin and James VanHeusen standards suggest, the group’s repertory, including Azarian’s own expert compositions, is changes-based. Juxtaposed over the harmonies are the pianist’s long, clear, melodies that toy with phrase structure in a compelling way. On “Embraceable You,” for example, the casual listener might think beats have been added or left out. Closer examination, however, reveals that the pianist has subtly tricked the ear with deft phrase manipulation and that the performers are strictly adhering to the tune’s form.
Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.