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Black Rock review
from Wire, September 1998
by Clive Bell
[archived here without permission]

Black RockThe duduk is a creamy toned, sobbing woodwind instrument, an ancient Armenian oboe made of apricot wood. Djivan Gasparyan, professor at the Yerevan University, is also the foremost duduk player, specializing in Armenian folk melodies. His instantly recognisable sound has been used by Peter Gabriel and Lionel Richie, and on the soundtrack to Atom Egoyan's Calendar.

Michael Brook, who produced an album for Gasparyan five years ago (Moon Shines at Night), here collaborates and co-writes a set of eight pieces showcasing both the duduk and Gasparyan's singing. The album follows in the footsteps of Brook's previous Ambient pop productions for the singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Iarla O'Lionaird. Writers in these pages (including myself) have been less that wildly enthusiastic about Brook's earlier collaborations, seeing them as attempts to tame the sound, bringing it "perilously close to coffee table music." So why have I been happily playing this one for several days?

Maybe it's because this is a genuine collaboration. Gasparyan sounds sublimely content improvising and fluttering over Brook's gently funky drums and Strawberry Fields flutes ("Fallen Star"). My guess is that Gasparyan and Brook are both passionate sentimentalists who find a lot of common ground in their desire to sculpt sensuous textures in their music. Brook's guitar is the cooler instrument, acting as a foil for Gasparyan's erotic meanderings. Brook and his excellent engineer, Richard Evans, use harmonizers and other effects to shade in a delicate glamour. Gasparyan weaves harmony lines around his own playing and occasionally sings in Armenian. Brook and Evans add guitars (a simple but effective guitar melody on "Together Forever" creates a kind of cowboy lament for Gasparyan to embroider), and Roel Van Camp accompanies "Immigrant's Song" on solo accordion.

Gasparyan's phrasing in another context - perhaps more Armenian - might read as a lonely wail of pain, but here the luxury of the production, coupled with his apparent sheer delight in the process, makes his playing quiver with the luxury of it all. The effect is contageous, and there are many spine-tingling moments. Sentimental it may be, but it works like magic.