In Areni Agbabian's work is where the avant-garde meets the more restrained milieu of art music and, for one of the few times in its glorious life, reconciles in such a way that even classicalists will find themselves, despite all conservative training not to, admiring what she's done. With only voice, piano, and massive gulfs of negative space, Agbabian unfolds 11 songs that belong in a cinematic art-house film directed by John Cage and Eric Salzman. What started as a wont to Joni Mitchell turned seriously deep once she'd laid hold of Patty Waters' release, an epiphanistic event (if you haven't heard Waters…hoo boy!, check her out immediately on YouTube or elsewhere, her version of Wild is the Wind for instance, but don't let grandma in the room unless you want to get disinherited—unless, of course, grandma happens to be Meredith Monk).
Agbabian is never so spectacularly uninhibited as Waters or Monk, leave that sort of thing to Diamanda Galas, but instead Ophelia-esque, this time around minus a looming Hamlet, and not with the dementia of a broken heart but rather the burden of too clear vision, of knowledge bordering on enlightened madness, velvet and satin fraying at the borders. Her threadbare atmospheres and encantations work powerfully to inexorably pull the listener in, enthralling him or her to a dimension that was always just around seven corners, now stretching to every horizon, without advance notice but always intuited. Where did this come from? Well, Areni's worked with many borders-taunting craftspeople, including the magnificent and still grossly underlauded Butch Morris and Michael Gordon of the Bang on a Can ensemble.
Agbabian ranges from near invisibility to almost Minnie Rippertonian stratospherics (Our Love is Gone), from whispers to keening wail tottering between delicacy and breaking glass. Then there's the Abruptness Factor, which so many handle poorly but she has completely under leash along with notational conversationalism, gestured poetics, and various oddments (Boat Song). It's been quite some time since anything this thoroughly integrated ambled along for the ear of well-versed listener and critic alike, and 2014's only half through, but Kissy(bag) is without doubt one of its best releases and likely will remain so when December arrives. Then there's 2015, 2016, 2017……
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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