Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ovsepian's last-minute magic at the Musical Suite

Used to be that his family got shortchanged. Vardan Ovsepian lived and worked in Newburyport, and got out to see the folks and his sister in Cali-Cali once, maybe twice a year. These days, he lives on the left coast, in Los Angeles, with the family, and gets here once, maybe twice a year and, like everyone on the wrong side of the short end of the stick, you've got to be ready to drop everything else when you get the word that he's around. Which is why I lit the fuse and blew up my schedule when we got a last-minute email saying Ovsepian, a jazz pianist with four Fresh Sound-New Talent albums under his belt, as well as two independent projects, would be blowing through New England, playing three shows in less than a week, before heading back to the coast.

The business end of the trip is an April 6 performance/CD release party for "Nothing but Illusion," Latvian flautist Ilona Kudina's new release, at Scullers, where he will perform in sextet with legendary drummer Billy Hart, Berklee faculty member Greg Hopkins on trumpet and bassist Akili Jamal Haynes. He also lined up a date for his own quartet, with long-time collaborators Tim Miller on guitar, Will Slater on bass and Mark Walker on drums at the Beehive in Boston. And, thankfully, knowing what a pain in the gas tank — and wallet — a trip to Boston can be for folks from exurbia, the pianist also set up an impromptu concert — more of an open rehearsal, actually — at the Musical Suite, where he taught for nearly a decade. Joining him were drummer Karen Kocharian, a pal from Armenia, and bassist Greg Loughman, another Berklee alum. 

This whirlwind performance produced a world of music, pieces from Portuguese composer Mario Laginha ("a huge influence on me," says Ovsepian), Japanese composer Ryuicki Sakamoto, and Swedish composer Loney Dear, "Ignorant Boy." The trio also played standards like Cole Porter's "So in Love" and the oddly happy, considering the lyrical material, "I've Never Been in Love Before," from "Guys and Dolls," as well as Ovsepian's own take on the film "The King's Speech" take on the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh, Wellington's victory over Napoleon at Vittoria. He closed with one of his own, "First Light," a tune he wrote with Gegham Margaryan. Solid playing, good communication, an afternoon that conjured up many moods.

As usual Ovsepian has got a lot on his plate. He's recording and touring with ex-Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, and will be featured on a new disc with saxophonist John O'Gallagher — something different, an improvisational duo with an avant garde sensibility. He's also gearing up for the summer performance of a new project: a 15-piece orchestra with the same sort of vibe as the Vardan Ovsepian Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble that's not exactly classical, not exactly jazz, which came out with VOCE, an intriguing disc that combined jazz and art songs with a chamber music sensibility, in 2006. It's likely a one-off project, one that will not get off the West Coast or result in a proper album. That kind of money would require a government bailout. He also just published "Mirror Exercises," a collection of what appear to be impossible training keyboard exercises. He's also got a date with the United States government, to become a citizen at the end of June.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Vardan Ovsepian will perform with Latvian flautist Ilona Kudina  at 8 p.m. April 26 at Scullers Jazz Club, DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Allston. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased on line at www.scullersjazz.com or by calling 617-562-4111."Mirror Exercises" can be purchased for $15 on Ovsepian's website. Photos on this page are courtesy of Musical Suite owner Nancy Assad.

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