Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris | Untainted

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Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz World: Armenian Moods: Featuring Piano
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by Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris

Pianist's album Features traditional Armenian songs and dances, in the wake of the country's “Velvet Revolution,” arranged in a unique improvisatory style.
Genre: Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Kaqavik
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
5:34 $1.99
2. Cilicia
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
9:49 $1.99
3. Armenian Variation
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
9:26 $1.99
4. Ashxarhums
Levon Mikaelian
6:47 $1.99
5. Tesnem Anin
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
9:39 $1.99
6. Circle
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
6:39 $1.99
7. Dance of Vagharshapat
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
7:56 $1.99
8. Msho Aghjik
Levon Mikaelian & Jon Steele
7:13 $1.99
9. De Ergir Araks
Levon Mikaelian, Jon Steele & Kelton Norris
6:43 $1.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Washington, D.C.-based pianist/composer Levon Mikaelian reflects on his childhood in Armenia
with a selection of songs from his homeland arranged for jazz trio on his new recording,
Untainted, set for a March 26 release. The pieces on Mikaelian’s second album, which also
features bassist Jon Steele and drummer Kelton Norris, range from the Armenian traditional
music of time immemorial to the compositions of Komitas, the 20 th century priest and folklorist
who is one of the icons of modern Armenia.
The title Untainted is not a translation of any of the titles on the album; it’s a description of the
memories they evoke for Mikaelian, who fled with his family from Armenia in the wake of the
Soviet collapse and the subsequent authoritarian government. “These are the songs my father
used to play,” says Mikaelian, now the musical director for the Maryland Youth Ballet. “He had
a restaurant in Yerevan [Armenia’s capital] with a big stage, and he had his band playing there.
We had a lot of good times there.” Now the father of two young sons himself, Mikaelian was
naturally drawn back to the music he grew up with, innocent of (that is, “untainted” by) the
political tensions that ultimately forced him to emigrate.
Yet while Mikaelian was preparing the recording for release, politics reasserted themselves in an
unexpected—but not unwelcome—way. Armenia underwent a “velvet revolution” in the spring
of 2018, with protests by young people across the country crippling and finally ousting the
hardline regime of nearly 30 years’ duration. Having escaped that regime himself, Mikaelian was
understandably moved by its toppling.
“I would go home after the recording sessions, water the newly planted grass seeds outside of my
house, and I would cry,” he says. “All these childhood memories kept pouring in and I was
feeling so emotional.” Untainted is therefore dedicated to the Velvet Revolution, and to “the
great valor of the Armenian people.”
Additionally, Mikaelian’s adult understanding of the songs sometimes overrides the childhood
innocence he drew on in selecting them. Songs such as “Cilicia” and “Tesnem Anin” are about
places that had been part of Armenia since antiquity, but were annexed by Turkey in the wake of
World War I and the harrowing events known as the Armenian Genocide. In addition, Mikaelian

notes that the composer Komitas was a casualty of those events, his 1915 deportation resulting in
mental instability and commitment to an institution, where he died.
Mikaelian honors Komitas—now the namesake of Armenia’s national conservatory—with two
of his (notably upbeat) compositions, “Kaqavik” and “Dance of Vagharshapat,”
acknowledging the composer’s tragedy while also celebrating the “good times” he remembers
from his youth.
Levon Mikaelian was born November 10, 1980 in Yerevan, Armenia. His father is also a
pianist, filling the household with music from as early as he can remember. Young Levon began
taking lessons on the instrument when he was seven.
Initially trained in classical music, Levon was in the top tier of students at Yerevan’s
Tchaikovsky School of Music, winning multiple competitions with his performances of Bach,
Chopin, and Khachaturian. However, the conservatism of the classical world, combined with the
crushing pressure of expectations, made the jazz music his father loved more attractive to Levon
(who was first captivated by a copy of Miles Davis’s classic Kind of Blue that a family friend
gave to him). The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union allowed him to increase his exposure to the
once-forbidden American music.
That collapse also brought economic instability and an authoritarian regime to Armenia,
however. When Mikaelian was 18 years old and a student at the Komitas State Conservatory, his
family won a U.S. green card lottery, and he emigrated with them to the Washington, D.C. area.
His father became a pianist—and eventually musical director—for the Washington Ballet and
helped his son get a similar job with the Maryland Youth Ballet. Mikaelian briefly attended
Berklee College of Music in Boston; however, having already sacrificed one home, he was not
ready to sacrifice another. He returned to D.C. and the MYB, where he became Music Director
in 2003.
At first shy about exploring D.C.’s vibrant jazz scene, Mikaelian waded in during the early 2010s
and was warmly embraced by the community. Indeed, he came to count that community as a
tremendous influence on his music (and on Untainted in particular). In 2014 he founded the
United Shades of Artistry, a world-fusion quartet featuring local musicians, and incorporating
Armenian and West African concepts. (Their self-titled album was released in 2015.)
It was with United Shades of Artistry that Mikaelian began cultivating the repertoire of what
became Untainted; however, the songs’ personal dimension for him required the intimacy of an
acoustic trio, which led to his work with Steele and Norris on the recording.



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