Zela Margossian Quintet caught my attention late last month with their stunning debut, Transition. Released on Art As Catharsis, the group’s first full-length is an incredible fusion of piano-driven jazz and Armenian folk music. Though my review will already tell you what I think of the record, we at Everything Is Noise wanted to get an opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of the five-piece, and put their musicianship on display as our Weekly Featured Artist.
The melange of styles heard on Transition is inherently connected to Zela Margossian’s upbringing as a pianist:
‘I grew up learning and performing classical music as my initial goal was to become a concert pianist. However, throughout all the years when I used to perform classical repertoires, I always felt a void and felt that I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing.’
This void inspired Zela to explore jazz, but the influence of classical performance is still present throughout her playing, especially on the debut’s title track. However, other songs like “Mystic Flute: A Version” pay homage to Zela’s musical and cultural heritage:
‘I was born in Beirut to an Armenian family and was brought up in the Armenian community; attending Armenian schools and even the music college where I graduated from before moving to Armenia was an Armenian establishment.
Moving to Armenia to study at the Yerevan State Conservatorium obviously had a very huge impact on me… when I heard the fusion of Armenian folk with jazz in the local venues in Yerevan, I was completely mesmerized and deep down within I really wanted to understand how it all worked and wanted to learn it myself.’
Zela’s musical journey manifested in a physical adventure, bringing her to Sydney to study jazz. And, although Zela has been playing piano throughout the world for a number of years, her quintet did not come together until she arrived in Australia:
‘Adem, the percussionist, his brother, Metin (the kaval player on tracks 9 and 10) and I were in an ensemble together a couple of years back. I first met them when I was invited to join that ensemble. I instantly connected with them both on a musical and on a personal level. We became very good friends. Elsen Price, the bass player, became a member of the ensemble too. Being an incredibly powerful bass player, I witnessed how Elsen could play any style of music brilliantly. Metin had plans to move to Germany. So, before he left, we recorded “Aleeq” and one of the takes of “The Child in Me”. I asked Alex, the drummer, whom I had met through my studies at the Sydney Conservatorium, to join us during the recording sessions. I can say that those two tracks initiated the start of the Quintet.’
The organic assembly of the quintet mirrored the natural writing of their debut record. Zela explains:
‘Most of the time, ideas come to me unexpectedly, such as while driving my car or when I am stuck in traffic. I record the good ideas on my phone by singing the tune or the motif and when the inspiration kicks in I develop it in my spare time.’
These ideas were expanded through live and jam settings with the rest of the members, and the compositions were met with enough audience enthusiasm to convince Zela to pursue writing and recording a record. However, it wasn’t just audiences who found the sound of the quintet compelling:
‘Lachlan R. Dale from Art As Catharsis got in touch with me one day and expressed his interest in signing me on the label. I think he had heard about the Quintet and had loved our music when he had checked out a few of our tracks.’
The outcome of this collaboration, Transition, was released on November 30, accomplishing one of Zela’s main aspirations:
‘Our first goal is to have an album which will mean something to people. Most of the tracks have underlying stories related to my life or incidents and I hope the music will touch our audiences on a deeper level.’
With this accomplishment recently achieved, the quintet now hopes to bring their music to as wide an audience as possible through touring, collaborating, and composing. We encourage you to stay along for the ride.
The Zela Margossian Quintet is:
Zela Margossian – Piano
Stuart Vandegraaff – Saxophone, Clarinet, Nay
Elsen Price – Double Bass
Adem Yilmaz – Percussion
Alexander Inman-Hislop – Drums