Flutist Yulia Musayelyan showcases her latest quartet album combining jazz vivacity with folk wisdom.

Yulia Mussayelyan traverses many realms and vehemently leads her quartet into the horizon on her latest album, Unsaid. The album combines traditional Russian and Armenian folk melodies with hard-driving jazz grooves. The album is full of dramatic washes, haunting soundscapes, and playful melodies to create an intensely moody and mystical album. Each track paints a cinematic landscape with broad and sweeping strokes where Musayelyan’s flute materializes as the protagonist and storyteller. 

The album opens with “Catch-22,” a lyrical flute and piano duo more reminiscent of folk melodies than jazz. This quickly shifts as the bass and drums enter with a syncopated backbeat groove. Musayelyan’s improvised lines showcase the versatility of her flute-playing as the tune develops into a more frenzied, free, and wandering solo followed by a climbing piano solo which eventually returns to the humble opening melody.

The album’s overall brooding sensibility is due in large part to the frequent cymbal washes used to cover the listener in a sonic blanket, out of which the flute emerges like a lotus from the riverbed. “Khnki Tsar is a great example of this. The flute emerges with another simple, nursery rhyme-like melody, but the underlying bass gives it an unexpected harmonic twist. The tune unfolds as the piano takes center stage in a solo that constantly gains intensity. 

 

 

The album is not entirely brooding however. “Fevral” is the most danceable song on the album and burns from start to finish. It blends Afro-Cuban rhythms with percussive piano and a groovy flute melody. Maxim Lumbarsky’s agile and percussive piano style, Fernando Fuego’s full bodied basslines, and Mark Walker’s melodic and versatile drumming lock in tightly and move as one. Each musician has a chance to show off their chops before the original melody comes back and takes us to a final triumphant flourish.

The tunes “Numbers” and “Tamzara” tell us that any instrument can be a percussion instrument; Musayelyan uses the flute’s keys to produce atonal rhythms in both tracks. On “Numbers,” the instruments dance around each other while the Fender Rhodes keyboard blends in smoothly. This tune’s odd time signature and percussion-heavy use of the Fender Rhodes gives us a repetitive and cyclical chant-like track—a musical mobius strip.

Musayelyan gives the flute a new profile for each of the 14 tracks—whether it’s the whispery undertones of “Landscapes”, or the floating, spry melodies of “New Age and “Fevral”, or the in-your-face, spiky edges of “Numbers” and “Tango Trece.” While “Fevral and “Numbers make up the more sprightly and groovy side of the album, the overall mood is one of rumination and dark colors. The quartet has a talent for blending the instruments together to create one mood. The title track is a good example of this. The bass and drums contribute to the tunes ghostly sound and go so much further than just time-keeping and harmony.

Unsaid manages to journey down a myriad of paths and explorations whilst staying true an overall sincere mood. Its details are impressive, its solos are well crafted, and the quartet itself is locked in glistening melodies showcase intricately woven musicianship. But the greatest strength of the album is how these details come together to tell one story, taking us to all corners of Musayelyan’s musical world.

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