Dear friends,

Music, arguable the most sublime form of art, is going through some truly horrible times.  Not only did MTV pretty much kill real pop/rock music, but the new forms of pretend music (rap, techno, “screaming” metal and all the rest of the “auditory prolefeed” you hear on the radio) seem to suggest that real music is dead.  And if we only look at commercial, high money, “music” it is true – it’s almost exclusively worthless crap whose main effect is to lower the standards of what we call “music” to a truly unfathomable low and make money for all the non-musician parasites which profit from it.

And yet.

And yet there are still some extremely good composers and interpreters out there, they are just harder to find and they sure don’t make big money.  In fact, there is still a lot of real talent left on our suffering planet, just not on the radio or the idiot box.  But on the Internet there a a lot of true gems (scattered all over an ocean of cheap vulgarity).

A few weeks ago I wanted to check who else besides myself plays what I consider the best electric guitar ever made, the Godin LGX-SA and, by pure chance, I bumped into this video which absolutely transfixed me:

The video is pretty bad, and the sound is decent at best.  But, my God, what a beautiful melody and what a superb interpretation!  I had never heard of this guy, turns out he is an Armenian born in Lebanon who know lives in Canada: Levon Ichkhanian (see his website here, and his bio here and his YouTube channel is here).  I can honestly say that his interpretation of what appears to be a traditional Armenian song (Ov Sirun Sirun) touched me so much that I had tears in my eyes.

Not since I heard Philip Catherine playing “Homecomings” in 1980 (I was 17!) was a so moved by a guitar piece (in fact, after hearing Catherine play, I dropped hard rock (mostly Led Zeppelin) completely and turned to Jazz guitar as I knew that my idea of what a guitar can express was changed forever).  Philip Catherine remains my absolutely favorite guitarist, but I have to say that Ichkhanian is not far behind.  I purchased his two CDs on Amazon and I was not disappointed to put it mildly and I highly recommend them. You can also download most of his compositions from this YouTube playlist. It’s well worth it!

For one thing, the sound is much better.  Here is the same composition as the live version above, recorded in the studio:

I still prefer the live version, but this one is almost as superb, no?

I said I like and play Jazz, but I also have to immediately add that I only like Jazz with has a real, powerful and gripping melody.  I have no interest for Bebop or any other style of music in which harmonies are only a pretext for improvisation and the showing off of technical skills.  Furthermore, I do believe that to be “real music” it has to include improvisation and I believe that to be a real musician you absolutely have to be able to improvise (if you don’t, then you don’t really know your instrument and you are severely limited in what you can express).  So that is a rare combo, at least nowadays, improvised music WITH a real powerful and gripping melody.

Ichkhanian offers exactly that and I have to say that I hope that he will write and record a lot more music.  In fact, I have some hope that maybe one day, thanks to the Internet, I could have him as a teacher, as I love not only HOW he plays but also WHAT he plays! (if somebody in Toronto can help me get in touch with him, I would be most grateful; the folks managing his website were not helpful, to put it mildly…).

Ichkhanian also plays acoustic, and very well. See for yourself:

I play more acoustic than electric (my favorite style is acoustic guitars duos, with improvisations of course!), but I love to listen to both instruments (Godin makes some superb nylon string acoustic guitars, like this one, too!).  And now that guitars can be plugged into a synthesizers (like a Roland GR-55) the possibilities are infinite.  While Andres Segovia once famously said “there is no such thing as an electric guitar”, I categorically disagree.  Acoustic nylon, acoustic metal and electric guitars are all guitars, they just allow you to express very different emotions, that’s all (and I never like Segovia anyway…).  Composers like Ichkhanian make full use of this amazing instrument.

So there still is very beautiful music out there, and since I can’t give you all a physical Nativity present, I can only offer what is dearest to my heart: music.   Today it was Ichkhanian.  Next time, probably someone very different, but also someone whose music I love.

So that is what I want to place under the (virtual) Christmas Tree of our small Saker Community: the music I love, in the hope that it will also conquer your hearts and give you as much joy as it gives me!

Hugs and cheers

The Saker

PS: if any Armenian reads this, I would love to find out more about this composition (Siroun), especially the other interpretations of this beautiful composition.

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