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David Azarian: Hope

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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.

Hope comprises two live radio performances, one from 1991 and the other from 1997, along with one solo studio track from 1995. On the first set, the pianist is assisted by bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Bob Gullotti; on the last by John Lockwood and Bob Weiner, and both groups function quite interactively, much as Bill Evans’ trios did.