Areni Agbabian ‘Bloom’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Californian born vocalist/pianist/composer Areni Agbabian came to international attention with the groups of Tigran Hamasyan. For “Bloom”, her ECM debut, together with percussionist Nicolas Stocker, she draws deeply upon her Armenian heritage, reinterpreting sacred hymns, traditional tales and folk melodies, interspersed with her own evocative compositions.

The music throughout “Bloom” is sparse yet engaging. There’s a spiritual feel and timeless clarity that ensues, creating a menagerie of mindful sound, deep and affecting. Stocker’s contribution is more than mere back-up, it is fully integrated and totally at one with Agbabian’s contemplative music. With the use of a full palette of percussive instruments, Stocker enriches the mood and atmosphere with a sense of understanding and meaning.

There are some truly gorgeous melodies to be heard on this album. None more so than on the trio of tunes “Petal One”, “Petal Two” and “Full Bloom”, their haunting beauty glowing with an aural and emotional purity that’s characteristic of Agbabian’s music. Her vocals are indeed like the petals of a flower coming into bloom; awakening a spirit from within that flourishes in a full array of colour and texture.

Throughout this album, a sense of yearning makes itself felt, strikingly so on the composer’s own deeply introspective songs “Patience” and “Mother”, as well as in the Armenian sacred hymn “Anganim Arachi Ko.” The album flows from one piece into another, with all of the tunes sharing a genetic connection that allows the listener to become completely immersed in the music from start to finish.

It’s lovely to listen to an album that feels so completely natural and unpretentious. It’s clear for all to hear that this deceptively simple music is from the heart, with the combinations of acoustic piano, voice and percussive instruments working wonderfully well together. It’s a little like a Zen painting, where an artist’s lifetime of study is played out and revealed in one seemingly simple, poignant brush-stroke. All of life is summed up in that one moment.

Mike Gates