Monday, August 15, 2011

CD Review - Aram Bajakian's Kef

Aram Bajakian's Kef

Without a drummer to anchor the tempo, it can be a bit of a challenge to avoid rushing the beat. Factor in some exotic tempos - like weird combinations of beats that add up to 9/8 or 7/8 - and suddenly a whole lot of thinking is required. Guitarist Aram Bajakian's trio Kef features him on electric and acoustic guitars; Shanir Blumenkranz on acoustic and electric basses, oud and gimbri; and Tom Swafford on violin. Their songs have roots in traditional Armenian music but Bajakian spices it up with some searing modern and post-modern rock, which makes the trio kick out some serious jams. Not once do they fumble through a dizzying melody or rush the tempo.

Bajakian, who just wrapped up a tour in Lou Reed's latest band, boasts a track record that includes work with Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney, Yusef Lateef and Marc Ribot. His tone on the guitar has the similar kind of irrascible twang of Mr. Ribot. After opening with the solo acoustic "Pear Tree," he switches to electric for "Sepastasia" which leaves the gate in a wail of noise that evokes another guitar renegade: Eugene Chadbourne (who, much like Bajakian, has numerous, diverse influences factoring into his work). With a little bit of Hendrix influence weaved in throughout the album, Bajakian does a good job combining rock and world influences.

His bandmates do an admirable job in developing the sound too. Wofford plucks so percussively on "Sumlinian" that he sounds like either a bongo drum or a banjo at first. Blumenkranz usually has the challenging job of riffing behind his bandmates in order to hold things together, though he gets to break away from his role as an anchor.

Among the highlights, "Wroclaw" has a middle section that sounds an awful lot like a Camper Van Beethoven instrumental from their early, East-meets-West days ("Four Year Plan" from the album II & III). The tunes where guitar and violin play the same melody tend to make me restless (bad memories of Mahvishnu). However the line in "Raki" is so rapid and twisty that the strings pull it off sounding more astounding than indulgent. Besides, the track starts off like a Middle Eastern version of Cream's "Swlabr" and has some great power chords between choruses, and a great use of a delay pedal during Bajakian's solo.

It also bears mention that these guys don't feel in any way inhibited by the odd time signatures during their solos. They let 'em rip like it's second nature. Probably because it is.

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