John Berberian and The Rock East Ensemble – Middle Eastern Rock (1969)
Armenia. Beginning in the eleventh century, a long series of invasions, migrations, conversions, deportations, and massacres reduced Armenians to a minority population in their historic homeland on the Armenian Plateau. A large-scale Armenian diaspora of merchants, clerics, and intellectuals reached cities in Russia, Poland, Western Europe, and India. Most Armenians remaining in historical Armenia under the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century survived as peasant farmers in eastern Anatolia, but others resettled in Constantinople and other cities in the empire. There they became artisans, moneylenders, and traders.
In the nineteenth century, the political uncertainties that beset the Ottoman Empire prompted further insecurity in the Armenian population. During the WWI, Armenians from the Caucasus formed volunteer battalions to help the Russian army against the Turks. Early in 1915, these battalions organized the recruiting of Turkish Armenians from behind Turkish lines. The Young Turk government reacted by ordering the deportation of the Armenian population to Syria and Palestine.
More than 1 million (!) died from starvation, were killed by Arab or Kurdish tribes along the route, either massacred or forcibly removed from the eastern Anatolian provinces, what became known as the (forgotten) Armenian Genocide.
(Due to the graphic content of this little-known Holocaust, we decided not to show these horrors committed on the page, there are links in the text for this.)
Aside from the historical persecution and diaspora, Armenia is a unitary, multi-party, democratic nation-state with an ancient cultural heritage. The Satrapy of Armenia was established in the 6th century BC, after the fall of Urartu. In the first century BC, the Kingdom of Armenia reached its height extension under Tigranes the Great.
Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in the early years of the 4th century (301 AD). They got their own distinctive alphabet and language, invented by Mesrop Mashtots in 405 AD, a fundamental step in strengthening the Armenian statehood and the bond between the Armenian Kingdom and Armenians living in the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire.
Located between the East and the West, a place of collisions between great empires of antiquity and the Middle Ages such as Rome, Iran, Byzantium, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols crossed Armenia and destroyed it interrupting its cultural development leaving behind nothing but the smoking ruins. Having managed to resist each of the powerful newcomers, the people have saved fidelity to their culture which nevertheless underwent some changes. As a result, the national culture of Armenia acquired some features characteristic to both civilization then: Eastern and Western.
Sergei Parajanov was a Soviet film director and artist who made significant contributions to Ukrainian, Armenian and Georgian cinema, with an own cinematic style, which was totally out of step with principles of socialist realism.
This, combined with its controversial lifestyle, led Soviet authorities to consider him a persona non grata, persecuting, imprisoning and banning its films!
Let’s go to our artist:
John Berberian (October 9, 1941) was born in New York City. Berberian’s parents were Armenian immigrants that came to America in the early 1920s with a rich musical culture. His father was an accomplished oud player, as well as an instrument maker. Oud masters of Armenian, Turkish, Arabic and Greek heritage frequented his family’s home. He first recorded traditional oud music with violinist Reuben Sarkisian, when a student at Columbia University in the mid-1950s. John subsequently recorded for a variety of labels including MGM, RCA, Roulette, Verve and Mainstream Records, two recordings from this series, Expressions East and Oud Artistry, were record-breaking in sales expanding beyond the ethnic market.
As a younger member of the longstanding Armenian community of Massachusetts, Berberian worked on a musical style known as Taksim (improvisation), a firm deeply rooted in traditional Middle Eastern folk music. Berberian has commanded the respect of musicians worldwide, he has been featured in numerous concerts and dances throughout the USA, Canada, and South America, and is one of only a handful of musicians worldwide given the title of Udi (oud master) (!). He presently lives in Massachusetts and maintains a very active performance schedule, up to this day.
Let’s go to our album:
In 1969, two producers from the Verve label, Peter Spargo and Harvey Cowen, tried to do for the oud what others did for the sitar. Spargo knew Berberian, having used him in various sessions. They hired him, with other Armenian musicians from New York and two jazzmen, including Joe Beck; they mostly did not know each other and rehearsed and recorded the same day they met for the first time. Verve fired the two producers before they could make of Berberian the new (sic) Ravi Shankar.
‘The Oud and The Fuzz’ is an original sound derived from the Druze tribe of Northern Africa. ‘Chem-OO-Chem’ is a popular Armenian song, 6/8 is the traditional rhythm for Armenian dances. This features lead vocalist Bob Tashjian. ‘Flying Hye’ (with hye referring to flying in Armenian) starts in 9/8 which changes to 6/8 and has a melody taken from the (famous) Greek dance form of Tsamiko.
Also ‘3/8 + 5/8= 8/8’ refers to how complex Middle Eastern melodies can build up, based upon Turkish classical music. ‘The Magic Ground’ is a based upon A minor (or Kurdi for Arab music), which takes off in 2/4, then breaks into a swing.
Once again do not be fooled by this tacky cover art! Released originally in 1969, Middle Eastern Rock is a unique, compelling fusion record from Armenian-American oud player John Berberian. The results, which blend elements of psychedelia, free jazz, klezmer, African, and Middle Eastern textures, are dazzling, and are sure to thrill anyone with a taste for outside albums, be ready and Բարի ճանապարհ:!
The ‘IM’ highlights are The Oud & The Fuzz and 3/8 + 5/8 = 8/8.
A1 The Oud & The Fuzz (Berberian) (4/4)
A2 Tranquility (6/8)
A3 Chem-OO-Chem (6/8)
B1 Iron Maiden (2/4)
B2 Flying Hye (9/8)
B3 3/8 + 5/8 = 8/8
B4 The Magic Ground (Berberian, Baronian) (2/4)
A2 To B3: Traditional
- Art Direction – Sid Maurer
- Artwork (Cover Art) – Jim O’Connell, Sandy Hoffman
- Bass (Fender Bass) – Chet Amsterdam
- Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone – Souren Baronian
- Drums – Bill LaVorgna
- Electric Guitar (Amplified Rock Guitar), Guitar (Fuzz) – Joe Beck
- Engineer – David Greene, Tony Maye
- Goblet Drum (Dumbeg) – Steve Pumilian
- Leader, Oud – John Berberian
- Liner Notes – Jack Maharian
- Percussion, Vocals – Bob Tashjian
- Producer – H.H. Cowen, Peter Spargo
- Rhythm Guitar – Ed Brandon
Recorded At A&R Studios, New York City
Produced By H.H. Cowen, Peter Spargo
Director of Engineering – Val Valentine
Engineers: David Greene, Tony Maye
Verve Forecast FTS-3073