I’m still not sure yet if Vardan Ovsepian is a master musician or chef. I’ve seen him over half a dozen times, and I’ve never been served the same meal by this concoctor of musical meals. Solo, trio, duets with vocalists, and even with his unique jazz chamber orchestra-the sound, songs and delivery are never the same, yet they all have an indelible fingerprint form the creative hands of Mr. O’s recipes.
This time around at the wonderfully hip Blue Whale, he lead a chamber band along with recently arrived Brazilian vocal queen Tatiana Parra. The highly percussive band included two drummers (Gavin Salmon-Zach Harmon) as well as marimba (Nick Mancini) along with a versatile string section (Miguel Atwood-Ferguson/viola, Artyom Manukyan/cel, Eric Sittner/b) and a fragrant woodwind section (Katisse Buckingham/fl, Brian Walsh/cl-bcl). The music centered around a 45 minute suite in six movements titled “Clockwork” that actually made time stand still with its mix of an evocative them delivered by Parra’s perfectly pitched wordless vocals, Mancini’s marimba and Ovsepian’s thoughtful piano.
Gentle rustlings of the piano and rhythm section lead to subterranean musings on the bass clarinet before the gentle crests of waves rose and rested between revisitations of the subliminal theme. Pizzicato solos by Ferguson created a mix of Moorish and Middle Eastern atmospheres while once the tide cleared all that was left was Ovsepian to deliver European harmonies and intricately classical technique, gently leading back to the them like a recurring afterthought.
Percussive passages ebbed and flowed like a summer tide, as Parra’s warm voice road the waves like Laird Hamilton as she took the crest and calmly maneuvered around the tricky turns with aplomb. Walsh’s mournful bass clarinet started the slow ascent back up the path as Ovsepian, then Mancini and then the rest of the ensemble rollicked up like Sisyphus, but able to push the rock over the top with Buckhinghams’ flute signaling victory. The rich climax brought a mix of applause and gasps from the audience, as everyone, including vocalists and musicians in the crowd, felt they had heard something important. Look for this piece on a release. It, and the master chef, needs to be heard.