Thursday, September 16, 2010
The Ray Mirijanian Oud and Clarinet Volume 1, No. 1 (Mirta, circa 1967)
While New York City and Massachusetts boast the largest Armenian populations on the East Coast, Philadelphia possesses a significant-sized community as well. In addition to the being the hometown of oud master George Mgrdichian, the City of Brotherly Love also produced the less-celebrated but equally talented Ray Mirijanian. Unfortunately, his recorded legacy is sadly neglected, and I don't think that any of his fine albums from the 1960s have ever been reissued on CD or MP3. Middle Eastern music enthusiasts not already familiar with Mirijanian's works should find much to enjoy in his discography and will wonder why he has not received greater recognition.
Even more amazing than Mirijanian's impressive skill on both clarinet and oud, as you could probably guess by the title of this LP, is the fact that he did not start playing the former instrument until the age of 23 and the latter a few years after that. He led something of a musical double life in the sense that he was the clarinetist for outfits such as the Yerevan Band and the Gomidas Band while also performing as an oudist with a group that regularly gigged at Philly's now-defunct Middle East Restaurant (whose belly dancers are featured with the Ray on the LP cover), an establishment owned by the Tayoun family. Jim Tayoun, in fact, had a hand in producing this album and wrote the liner notes. The Ray Mirijanian Oud and Clarinet Volume 1, No. 1 was the first in a series of records released on the Mirta label, whose name seems to come from the first few letters of the musician's and producer's last names. If Jim Tayoun is the same person as former city councilman Jimmy Tayoun mentioned in this article from the Philadelphia Business Journal, he apparently was a pretty unsavory character as he spent three years in prison for racketeering and other charges during the early 1990s. Let's hope that he didn't screw his artist out of any royalties. In contrast, I can't find any biographical information about Mirijanian at all, but if I remember correctly, I believe that John Berberian told me he had passed on several years ago. I would love to hear from any of Ray's friend and/or relatives who could provide me with biographical details since his life story needs to be properly documented.
Despite its unimaginative title, this is one of the greatest Middle Eastern-belly dance albums of all time. Seriously, every track on here is positively outstanding if such music is to your liking. What really makes this LP stand out is the tremendous amount of variety that exists among the tracks. In addition to supplying excellent examples of Armenian, Turkish, Greek, Persian, Israeli, and Arabic music, the selections feature interesting and innovative instrumentation. Mirijanian's oud and clarinet playing are impressive throughout the record, but also notable are Edmond Joseph's prominent accordion (giving several of the tracks a klezmer flavor at times), Robert Marashlian's kanun artistry, and Ernest "Skippy" Krepelka's understated guitar work. Seven of the 13 performances are instrumental, with cuts like "Chifte Telli" and "Hava Nagila" being titles with which some readers might be familiar. "Halay" is especially intense but regrettably marred by an abrupt and premature fadeout, which is just about the only critical thing I can say about any of the tracks. Mirijanian, Marashlian, and Joseph variously provide the vocals on the remainder, among which the beautifully melancholy (as one would expect from its title) "Mee Melancholis" is arguably the standout. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, the group harmonies on the Armenian standard "Kale Kale" are downright joyous, not to mention the excellent kanun and oud solos. Anyway, words can only say so much. Give this one a spin, and judge for yourself.
1. Hasapiko (Greek)
2. Jameela (Arabic)
3. Bandar (Persian)
4. Chifte Telli (Turkish-Greek)
5. Manee Rayida (Arabic)
6. Halay (Armenian)
7. Hava Nagila (Israeli)
8. Mee Melancholis (Greek)
9. Kale Kale (Armenian)
10. Karsilamas (Greek-Turkish)
11. Bint El Shalabiyeh (Arabic)
12. Efem (Turkish)
13. Kalmatianos (Greek)