Beauty of ‘Sketch Book’ draws attention to local pianist Ovsepian

Boston Globe, MA
March 12 2004

Beauty of ‘Sketch Book’ draws attention to local pianist Ovsepian
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent, 3/12/2004

NEWBURYPORT — A few months ago, Brad Mehldau told
that there is a fellow pianist out of Boston who had made a beautiful
record. “His name is Vardan Ovsepian,” the Grammy-nominated artist

The record is “Sketch Book,” and Mehldau isn’t the only established
musician to become an admirer. Ovsepian, who will bring his quartet
(bassist Joshua Davis, drummer Take Toriyama, and vocalist Monica
Yngvesson) to the Regattabar on Wednesday for sets with guest
classical cellist Agnieszka Dziubak, is drawing notice from many
performers for the way he blends vocals with improvisation and
classically influenced compositions.

Saxophonist George Garzone, a member of Joe Lovano’s Grammy-winning
nonet and the long-lived local trio the Fringe, played a Regattabar
gig with Ovsepian’s quartet last year and may record with the group
on a future disc. And guitarist Mick Goodrick recorded three tracks
on “Sketch Book.”

“He’s one of the most talented young musicians I’ve seen in a long,
long time,” Goodrick says.

In his pieces, Ovsepian uses Yngvesson’s voice in a unique way — as
a horn-like instrument. He writes specifically with her vocals in
mind, and on “Sketch Book” her wordless soprano sings melodies in
unison with Ovsepian’s piano as Davis, Toriyama, and Ovsepian
improvise and supply rhythmic backing. The resulting sound is cool
and cerebral.

At times, Yngvesson is vaguely reminiscent of Flora Purim on Chick
Corea’s classic “Light as a Feather,” and Ovsepian’s piano-playing
reveals trace elements of some of his heroes: Mehldau, Keith Jarrett,
and Lennie Tristano. Ovsepian, 28, a thin, soft-spoken native of
Armenia, came to Boston in 1999 to begin a scholarship at Berklee
College of Music. In his walk-up apartment that he shares with
Yngvesson, Ovsepian says he first started thinking of writing for a
vocalist after listening to the work of Brazilian singer-composer
Luciana Souza. “At that time, everybody was saying, `You have to meet
Monica Yngvesson,’ ” he says. She had come over from Sweden on a
Berklee scholarship of her own. “So I started looking for her. And I
found her.”

Ovsepian’s latest batch of a dozen pieces was written for Dziubak’s
cello. The compositions are for a CD Ovsepian plans to record next
month and release in the fall. Pieces from that project will make up
the entirety of the Regattabar outing, Ovsepian says, and he,
Yngvesson, and Dziubak got a jump-start rehearsing the new material
in preparation for full-group practice sessions with Davis and
Toriyama. The rehearsals generally take place at the private music
school Musical Suite, a 10-minute walk from the couple’s apartment.

Ovsepian and Yngvesson have day jobs teaching at the school. They
might consider moving to New York at some point, but for now, living
in Newburyport makes sense for them. It may prove to be a strategic
step, Ovsepian says, “like a cat leaning back before it leaps.”

The Vardan Ovsepian Quartet performs with special guest Agnieszka
Dziubak at the Regattabar Wednesday. Sets at 8:30 and 10 p.m., $12;