On this, its second release, the New York/L.A.-based expatriate Armenian vocal group Cascade Folk Trio continues to ply an ambitious blend of traditional Armenian music and elements of jazz, Latin, contemporary R&B, and current world-pop dance sounds. CFT is a supergroup of sorts, its members, Ohanna Mtghyan, Arman Aghajanyan, and Armen Papikyan, all distinguished as popular singers in their motherland prior to the threesome's 1999 formation. Aghajanyan, the group's leader, creates most of the music: a wide canvas featuring the work of more than 20 musicians, it serves as the exotic backdrop to the trio's solo and ensemble singing.
Although Aghajanyan and Papikyan also come from strong jazz conservatory backgrounds, it's Mtghyan's voice that's the big attraction. Time itself stands still when this eternal desert siren opens her mouth. Her throaty, soaring laments, such as the opener "Gentle Boy, Gentle Girl" or the yearning "Where is My Love?", along with the use of native instruments like duduk, kanun, zurna, and kamanche and the album's clubby rhythms, are the group's stock in trade.
As evidenced by the disc's shiny, modern production, the "Folk" end of the band's moniker is meant in the Dylan-goes-electric sense, incorporating ubiquitous and accessible programmed synth and drum tracks. The jazz touches, such as the Latin piano figures on "Burly Boy," provide flavor rather than a showcase for improvisation. But the brilliant indigenous highlights, like Arsen Andreasyan's violin or Vram Minasyan's snake-charming clarinet, are truly transcendental, at times recalling --- coincidentally, of course --- Public Image Limited's essential, Middle Eastern-influenced 1981 LP, The Flowers of Romance.
By its nature, folk music should be ever evolving, absorbing styles and instruments outside the realm of its given tradition; indeed it must to remain relevant. Although this record's glossy sheen may seem saccharine to those more accustomed to older traditional sounds, the Cascade Folk Trio is to be commended for bringing the native noise to the dance floor. Despite how it might look on paper, Old Street has gobs of crossover potential. Coming soon to a swinging ethnic bistro near you.
(Note: this enhanced CD also features a "Where is My Love?" promotional video.)
Personnel: Ohanna Mtghyan, Arman Aghajanyan, Armen Papikyan - vocals; gevorg Movsisyan - accordion; Conrad Adderly - bass; Vram Minasyan - clarinet; Alik Peleshyan - dhol, zarb; Abe Fogel - drums; Kamo Seyranyan - duduk; Norayr Kartashyan - duduk, shvi, blur; AB+ - French horn; Matt Beck, Karo Sarafyan - guitars; Varazdad Baghdasaryan - kamanche; Armine Asatryan - kanun; Sasha Grigoryan - percussion; Artashes Kartalyan, David - piano; Arkadi Pogosyan - tar; Brian Melick - utar, udu; Arsen Andreasyan - violin; Varazdat Hovhanisyan, Vardan Grigorian - zurnas; Arshak Saakyan - zurna, shvi.