Fusion as we knew it in the '70s hasn't disappeared, but it isn't as plentiful as it was back then -- for every new fusionist who comes along, there are a lot more people playing smooth jazz and crossover jazz. Levon Ichkhanian is among the guitarists who, in the '90s and 2000s, has done his part to keep fusion alive. It isn't hard to see why his second album is called Travels; this sophomore outing, like his 1996 debut, After Hours, has a very global, multicultural outlook. Travels underscores the Toronto-based Ichkhanian's interest in Latin music (Afro-Cuban and Spanish as well as Brazilian), but it also incorporates elements of Middle Eastern music -- which isn't surprising when you consider his background. When a musician is born in Lebanon and is of Armenian descent -- and when his father is a well-respected pianist who has a long history of working with Armenian pop singers -- it stands to reason that some of that Armenian/Middle Eastern influence would assert itself. But multiculturalism isn't the only thing that Ichkhanian has going for him; he also brings a strong sense of lyricism to the table. While Ichkhanian has impressive chops, he isn't beating listeners over the head with them. Ichkhanian is obviously smart enough to realize that the chops-for-the-sake-of-chops approach has its limitation -- thus, an Ichkhanian solo typically has feeling, warmth, and emotion as well as technique. This jazz-rock CD (which he produced with his father, pianist Edouard Ichkhanian) isn't the work of an exhibitionist; it's the work of a storyteller. After Hours remains Ichkhanian's most essential album; nonetheless, Travels is a rewarding sophomore effort for the talented guitarist.
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