The pool of guitarists looking to identify with the East Village that was (the improv end of which is ably kept stable by the Tzadik record label) never seems in danger of drying up. The clubs may have moved to Brooklyn, replaced by restaurants and boutiques, but the lineage remains intact. There are others as well, to be sure, but it's the guitar which is most adept at crossing between rock, jazz and noise in all their manifestations. The Manhattan soundtrack is still the work of Arto Lindsay, Marc Ribot, Elliott Sharp, Sonny Sharrock and James "Blood" Ulmer, even if their descendants these days live across the river.
Aram Bajakian is one of the latest hotshots to play the part. His CV includes stints with Yusef Lateef, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Hugh Maskela and Lou Reed, and the adeptness such a series of gigs demands is well displayed on his trio disc Kef. Drawing on his Armenian heritage for many of the themes, the record fits snugly with much of Tzadik's Middle Eastern-tinged Radical Jewish Music series, although this CD is issued under the newer "Spotlight" series of releases by younger musicians. It is, in other words, loud NYC electric polyglot. It's amped up, but Bajakian isn't going for No Wave abandon. The music is tightly controlled with unison melodies (on guitar and Tom Swafford's violin) grounded by the strong hand of bassist Shanir Blumenkranz. Without drums — as Reed once said, cymbals eat guitars — the intricacies of the music can be heard. And with the spot-on musicianship a timekeeper isn't needed anyway. With a taste of old East Village and older Armenia, Bajakian and band craft something familiar but new.
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