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Djivan Gasparyan and Michael Brook at Park West
from The Chicago Tribune
7 August 1999
by Michael Parrish
[archived here without permission]

The duduk is an tiny oboe-like instrument that has been a key part of Armenian culture for over 2,000 years. In the hands of master musician Djivan Gasparyan, who played the Park West on Friday night with producer-guitarist Michael Brook, the duduk is capable of an incredible range of emotions and timbres. At different times during their performance, Gasparyan made the instrument sound like a muted cornet, an Indian snake charmer's flute, and even an anguished human voice.

Gasparyan, 70, has become known in the states through a series of remarkable solo albums, as well as through his work with artists such as Peter Gabriel and Lionel Richie. His rare Chicago appearance was in support of "Black Rock," an album he and Brook recently released on Gabriel's Real World record label. The duo's performance Friday pinpointed the rewards as well as the liabilities of cross-cultural musical conversations.

Brook, who has made a career out of collaborations with musicians from around the globe, plays his custom-built guitar through a variety of electronic effects, creating soft washes of ambient sound that at times resemble the textures created by his mentors Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Brook alternated between elegant, atmospheric solo lines; spacey, David Gilmour-style slide playing; and dense clusters of chords that recall U-2 guitarist The Edge.

The pair were aided by two other musicians, drummer Jason Lewis, whose crisp drumming often overpowered his colleagues, and multi-instrumentalist Richard Evans, who mainly played synthesizers and guitar. Overall, the sound was that of a competent space-rock band. Not necessarily bad in itself but perhaps not the best context in which to present subtle, virtuoso playing such as Gasparyan's. Things got even stranger when Gasparyan sang, as he did on nearly half of the evening's numbers. He conveyed considerable passion with his soft, gentle tenor, but the folk melodies he sang, in Armenian, were again an uneasy blend with the Western textures of the other musicians.

Even though Brook and company's music often seemed incompatible with Gasparyan's gorgeous playing, the Armenian musician readily rose to the challenge of melding with the work of his younger cohorts. Even on a rousing rock shuffle like Brook's "Breakdown," Gasparyan spun an intricate solo that twisted through and around the tune's straightforward chord progression.

The show's high point was the solo turn that Gasparyan took on a poignant, reflective traditional Armenian tune. Although the music the other musicians crafted sounded pretty enough, this and a handful of other quiet moments during the show suggested that, next time out, Garparyan's music might best be presented without the electronic trappings.