06.04. – Happy Birthday !!! Armen Nalbandian (born 1978 in Manchester, England) is a jazz pianist, composer, author, and activist from Los Angeles, California.
Highly influenced by Thelonious Monk, Nalbandian performs jazz, free & avant- garde jazz, improvised and experimental music. While his primary ensemble is the Armen Nalbandian Trio, he has led more than 30 different ensembles and composed over 1200 works ranging from music for string quartets, chamber music, orchestral music, electronic music, scores for theater, experimental hiphop, ‘Conduction’ pieces inspired by Butch Morris’ approach, new Japanese & Armenian inspired folk music, and John Zorn inspired “game pieces,” in addition to having performed a solo piano concert of Zorn’s Masada music with the encouragement and blessing of the composer. His active groups include the Armen Nalbandian Trio (w. Eric Revis & Nasheet Waits), Armen Nalbandian V (w. Jeff Parker, Chris Speed, Eric Revis, & Alex Cline), and the Armen Nalbandian 3 (w. Steve Lehman & Guillermo E. Brown)
Nalbandian cites witnessing a Cecil Taylor performance at LA’s Jazz Bakery when he was 19 years old as a major revelation and turning point in his life and career.
Armen Nalbandian is the protege of jazz pianist John Hicks, but also credits Bill Dixon, McCoy Tyner, as being important teachers in his artistic development in addition to learning invaluable lessons from jazz greats Charlie Haden, Jackie McLean, Horace Silver, Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins, Art Farmer, John Handy, and Harold Land.
Nalbandian has played and/or recorded with Billy Higgins, Han Bennink, Eric Revis, Nasheet Waits, Bennie Maupin, Jeff Parker, Chris Speed, Steve Lehman, Guillermo E. Brown, Derek Keller, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Tony Dumas, Carl Allen, & Alex Cline.
Nalbandian is also known for his multidisciplinary collaborations in visual and fine art which notably include a 4-year residency at the Fresno Art Museum where he served as Music Director/Artist-in-Residence. Additional collaborations have included original compositions featuring poets Sunni Patterson, Lee Herrick, and Tim Z. Hernandez; as a member of funk/soul artist Nino Moschella’s touring band for The Fix and Boom Shadow, composing and arranging the Music of Mexico for the Fresno Philharmonic, and composing the original experimental electronic score for The Artist’s Repertory Theater production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Nalbandian established his own record label, Blacksmith Brother in 2006.
In 2008, Nalbandian was named as a finalist in the 2008 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Talent Search and has received considerable praise from his contemporaries including Dave Douglas, Susie Ibarra and Matthew Shipp who called Nalbandian “a truly great modern musician with an expansive understanding of the jazz tradition and then some.”
In 2011 and 2012, Nalbandian had multiple improvised performances with comedian Dave Chappelle at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in both Oakland and San Francisco.
In 2017, Armen Nalbandian formed two new ensembles to add to his work with his trio with Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits and his solo piano work. The first a new quintet named Armen Nalbandian V featuring Chris Speed, Jeff Parker, Eric Revis & Alex Cline and the Armen Nalbandian 3 with Steve Lehman & Guillermo E. Brown loosely inspired by Cecil Taylor’s trio with Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille.
In October 2017, Nalbandian premiered a solo piano piece by Wadada Leo Smith entitled Majestic. October 2017 also saw solo piano performance at the MOCA- hosted benefit for Alice Waters sponsored by Steinway & Sons in which Nalbandian performed several pieces by Thelonious Monk during his centennial week.
Armen Released in March 2006, Armen was Nalbandian’s debut album as a leader and the debut recording featuring the first Armen Nalbandian Trio. The recording features Nalbandian on piano, and contains five original compositions by Nalbandian, and five by other composers including the rarely performed Thelonious Monk composition “Oska T”, and the traditional spiritual “This Train”. Nalbandian’s composition Need is dedicated to memory of pianist Kenny Kirkland.
Manchester Born Manchester Born was released in November 2007 and features The Armen Nalbandian Trio. This was Armen Nalbandian’s debut recording on the Fender Rhodes Mechanical Piano. The recording consists of 10 original compositions by Nalbandian and is dedicated to his mentor John Hicks, and in memory of Alice Coltrane & Andrew Hill.
Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off Initially inspired by avant-garde drummer Chris Corsano’s solo drum album The Young Cricketer and the music of Ikue Mori, Armen Nalbandian’s first solo recording was named after a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat and features Nalbandian on the “prepared” Fender Rhodes. The recording was made by Nalbandian performing primarily on the inside of the Fender Rhodes, treating it as a percussion instrument, manipulating the hammers with drum cymbals, snare drum heads, wrenches, mallets, and keys. Nalbandian also employed an analog delay pedal and a wah-wah pedal. The recording is completely improvised with the exception of the composition “Blues to Steve Lacy”, which was composed by trumpeter Dave Douglas.[The sound of the album has elicit comparisons to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and John Cage’s prepared piano music. The album has been featured heavily on WFMU, called by Rolling Stone Magazine, The Village Voice, CMJ and the New York Press as “the best radio station in the country.”
Tirez Sur Le Pianiste & To Repel Ghosts To Repel Ghosts is an experimental electronic production and live instrumentation album comprising 11 compositions by Nalbandian. The album is Nalbandian’s second recording named after the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. To Repel Ghosts was Nalbandian’s first digital-only album, released exclusively on the artist’s website in its first year. Nalbandian’s album, Tirez Sur Le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player), was released 9 months prior and features a trio of compositions that also appear on To Repel Ghosts. The music on both albums have been compared to Kid A/Amnesiac-era Radiohead, and the LA beat scene.
Coup de Grace On August 23, 2011, Nalbandian released two distinctly different albums. The first, Coup de Grace, is a live recording featuring Nalbandian on piano and drummer Han Bennink in an improvised duet setting. Bennink, perhaps best known as one of the pivotal figures in early European free jazz and free improvisation is the co-founder of the Instant Composer’s Pool (ICP). Nalbandian and Bennink conclude the performance with a rousing rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”
In both concept and art direction, Coup de Grace references Peter Brötzmann’s 1968 album, Machine Gun; which also features Han Bennink.
Nalbandian is among the select few artists that have performed with Bennink in a duo format; the formidable list includes; Peter Brötzmann, Cecil Taylor, Misha Mengelberg and Myra Melford. At only 29 years old during the recording; he is also perhaps the youngest.
Quiet as it’s Kept Quiet as it’s Kept, is the first studio recording of the Armen Nalbandian Trio with Eric Revis on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Nalbandian is featured on the Fender Rhodes. The trio recording contains first takes of solely original compositions by Nalbandian.
Nalbandian is among an elite group of artists that perform with the Revis/Waits tandem which include Peter Brötzmann, Tarbaby, Oliver Lake, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Revis’ own Parallax Quartet (with Ken Vandermark and Jason Moran)
Surrounded by Snakes On March 15, 2013, he released his 8th album, Surrounded by Snakes, a 13 song album consisting of original compositions that feature him in an experimental electronic setting with improvised solos. Nalbandian is the sole producer and instrumentalist on the album. The album artwork was designed by Joshua Asante of the Arkansas blues bands Velvet Kente and Amasa Hines.
Time Waits Inspired by the intimacy and sparseness of Keith Jarrett’s seminal album The Melody at Night, with You, Armen Nalbandian released his first solo piano album (his 9th album), Time Waits, on May 23, 2014. It consists of 8 original compositions by Nalbandian including a reworking of “Conflicted” from his album Manchester Born. The additional material includes “I Get Along Without You Very Well” written by Hoagy Carmichael and popularized by Frank Sinatra, “Ugly Beauty” by Thelonious Monk and Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack”. Time Waits and Alis Grave Nil consist of performances recorded over an evening at Nino Moschella’s Bird & Egg studio which ultimately yielded 38 first & final takes, many of which remain unreleased.
Alis Grave Nil Nalbandian’s tenth album, Alis Grave Nil, is a follow-up to Time Waits. Originating from the same solo piano recording session as Time Waits; it was released on July 23, 2014. Alis Grave Nil (translated from Latin meaning “nothing is heavy to those who have wings”) includes compositions by Nalbandian, Charlie Chaplin, Eubie Blake, & fellow LA-native Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me” from his album Good Kid M.A.A.D. City. The album artwork of both “Time Waits” and “Alis Grave Nil” feature paintings by Armen Nalbandian created only months prior to the recordings. Nalbandian has referred to both solo albums as “a requiem of my early career.” Nalbandian contends “there is a great deal of symbolism throughout the first 10 albums and they are connected in many ways, AGN concludes the story.”
Nalbandian has most often used his platform to recognize social and civil injustice and perform many humanitarian services. He has raised thousands of dollars in aid for the victims of Hurricane Katrina by way of many benefit concerts. Nalbandian has also raised money for organizations as diverse as The United Way, The Red Cross, the ONE Campaign, Habitat for Humanity, The American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Research and The Relay for Life Foundation, among others.
In September 2009, Nalbandian appeared in the play ‘Semblance: Notes from the Promised Land’ written by Devoya Mayo. The final act of the play featured a soliloquy written and performed by Nalbandian, critical of the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Recent performances have seen Nalbandian make critical comments from the bandstand regarding America’s proposed cuts to funding for the arts and it’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, never addressing the current administration by name.
Visual & Fine Art Collaborations
From 2004 to 2008, Nalbandian served as the Artist-in-Residence/Music Director of the Fresno Art Museum, Artistic Director of Jazz @ the F.A.M., Artistic Director of the F.O.R.M. (Festival of Resurrected Music), and curator of the Rhythms of Art in which he composed concerts of original music inspired by the exhibitions at the Fresno Art Museum on a monthly basis. The programming also included educational components for children and adults, concerts which highlighted the music of jazz masters and supplemental concerts that focused on collaboration. While Nalbandian’s first season musically focused on a primarily traditional foundation, primarily inspired by Duke Ellington, his approach and compositions for the following 3 seasons were highly inspired by Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill & The Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Nalbandian concluded his artistic residency at the Fresno Art Museum by performing a solo piano program of composer John Zorn’s Masada music encouraged with the composer’s blessing.
Nalbandian has often referenced the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat in his early work and song titles; compositions throughout his early discography reference specific Basquiat paintings and graffiti. Nalbandian presented a concert inspired by Basquiat’s work in March 2008 during his tenure as Artist-in-Residence at the Fresno Art Museum.
Nalbandian has also composed and premiered music inspired by the work of Kerry James Marshall, Theaster Gates, Kara Walker, David Hammons, Arshille Gorky, Anne Scheid, and Garo Antreasian; who wrote of Nalbandian’s work in his 2016 biography, Reflections on Life and Art.
In March 2017, Nalbandian premiered a new composition, Heirloom, with his trio with Revis and Waits inspired by “Heirlooms and Accessories” by Kerry James Marshall after viewing it at multiple times at both Marshall’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and The Underground Museum.