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John O’Gallagher/Vardan Ovsepian: Nocturnal Prophecy

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Best listened to with the lights down low, this duo set from saxophonist John O’Gallagher and Armenian-born pianist Vardan Ovsepian travels through a variety of byways, peering into the shadows beyond the streetlight’s halo and down alleys that come alive when most of the world is fast asleep. The two met through the Maine Jazz Camp summer institute, where both have long served as teachers and ensemble directors. Their musical sympathies are evident throughout this collection in their use of reserve and space; they let a mysterious, dusky stillness settle between them in the dying echoes of breathy melodies and ringing chords.

This disc isn’t single-mindedly morose, however. The tolling lament of “New Objects Old Game” is immediately followed by the darting, scurrying “It Matters Not,” while the keening pleas suggested by “Private Doors” come on the heels of the brief, urgent struggle of “Era of Reflection.” The album’s longest tune, O’Gallagher’s “Damnable Soul,” is redolent of a noir-tinted Satie “Gymnopedie,” and the linked solo turns of “Unchanged” hint at missed connections, two lonely bodies passing in the night. The disc, comprising 18 miniatures-only one of which cracks the five-minute mark-takes its title and that of each of its largely improvised pieces from a poem by Ovsepian’s countryman Hamlet Ayvazian. But its atmospheres of haunting melancholy and twilit intimacy could have also come from the urban soulscapes of Edward Hopper or Cornell Woolrich.

Originally Published