By Rachel Onanian Nadjarian
NEW YORK — As an ethnic people with roots in the Caucasus, Armenians continuously seek to maintain a connection to their rich history and cultural identity. While language, church, and food play strong roles in the perpetuation of the Armenian identity, the most powerful link to the world around u
s arguably lies in the musical harmonies and ethnographic euphonies that have transcended generations. At times haunting and at other times inspiring, the sounds of Armenian folk music resonate in a way that deeply connects the listener to the past and to the unrelenting truth that comforts us with its endurance. As we have evolved as a people and music has evolved as an entity, traditional Armenian folk and liturgical pieces have become the foundation and backdrop upon which numerous artists experiment in redefining the audience’s connection to what they are experiencing.
And so it is with the unique and intricate sounds of the New York City band, Soundsketch. Formed in 2012 by Yerevan-born jazz singer and composer, Tatev Yeghiazaryan, Soundsketch is a musical ensemble that embraces and celebrates the powerful and unique union of Armenian, jazz and classical sounds. Presented both as the backdrop to films and as pure musical compositions, the intricate details of Soundsketch pieces provide innumerable variations for the listener, resulting in a versatile and eclectic audial experience that is simultaneously deep and inspiring. The six-piece ensemble includes piano/vocals, bass cello, trumpet, saxophone and percussions at live performances with the addition of flute, harp and vibraphone for film and animation scores.
Perhaps most unique about Yeghiazaryan’s compositions and arrangements is the way she combines the sound of jazz woodwind and brass instruments with strings and voice to play folk melodies that are typically only played on Armenian traditional instruments.
Take, for example, Yeghiazaryan’s original composition, Heritage, which Soundsketch recently debuted at Le Poisson Rouge music hall in New York City. After returning from a visit to Armenia in 2014, Tatev felt inspired by the epic mountains she was amidst and wrote the music and lyrics of Heritage to include strings, horns as well as strong doumbek and daf sections — representing the cliffs and rocks that are so prevalent. A traditional Armenian folk song played by the band is Spasoum (Waiting). This piece is an instrumental piece and is played with a traditional Armenian orchestra that includes dhols, cannons and shvis. Yeghiazaryan’s rendering takes into account the dynamism and mood changes of the original piece with carefully balanced union of vocals and instruments of varied origins without overpowering the other.