Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamsayan is something of an enigma, coming from eastern Europe with a strong classical tradition and Armenia having an impressive, yet outside of the country a little known folk tradition. Still not yet thirty, Tigran relocated to L.A. with his family in 2003 recording in a variety of formats from solo to trio and beyond, but currently lives in his native land and in the city of Yerevan. Which is where this wonderful new recording helps fill in the wider picture. It was recorded in that city last October and is devoted to the scared music of that nation. These compositions are steeped in a centuries old tradition that go way back in time from the fifth century until the twentieth, and Hamasayan has taken it upon himself to fulfil the non-negligible challenge and task of reworking these ancient melodies in a new setting accompanied by piano which is a significant accomplishment and one achieved with no little virtuosity on his part. There is a mystical quality to this music that even a neophyte to the Armenian musical tradition will immediately appreciate and the project preparation, five years in the making, included Tigran studying in Paris with the singer and scholar Aram Kerovpyan who, although Turkish, has devoted his life to the study of Armenian sacred music.
What of the music? If the general ambiance is reposing with a distinctive Satie-esque quality, the voices gradually come through and dominate proceedings. The mainly piano-led piece ‘Sirt in Sasani’ certainly evokes ‘Gymnopédies’ and is one of a trio of relatively brief piano vignettes that intervene between vocal numbers. Uplifting choir ensemble voices soar on the nine and half minute ‘Voghormea indz Asvats’ before some lovely piano improvisation takes over. The piece builds to a blistering crescendo of voices that is utterly sublime..
As a departure from the general calm, and with dramatic voices to accompany Tigran, ‘Nor Tsaghik’ stands out as a stunning piece and deserves pride of place. This is ECM at its very finest, seeking and finding new musical terrain and could just prove to be popular with a wider audience. A brief tour of England will include the Union Chapel in London on 15 October and the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds the following evening.