Artyom Manukyan ‘Citizen’ (Ghost Note) 4/5

artyom-manukyanArmenian born Cellist Artyom Manukyan studied classical music in his home country, along with Russia, Germany and Greece before becoming inspired by the jazz of Avishai Cohen (bass) and Marc Johnson. His influences spread far and wide, seeing him perform with his own Armenian based bands, along with the funk-fusion band Katuner, Joe Zawinul, Night Arc, Karim Ziad and many more. His love and passion for all styles of music led him to form the hip-hop influenced band New People, before moving to Los Angeles and taking to the stage with Tigran Hamasyan and working as a session musician with the likes of Peter Erskine, Bobby Brown and Gretchen Parlato, to name but a few. Having travelled the world and fully immersed himself in so many different musical styles and genres, it comes as little surprise that “Citizen” is filled to the brim with so many multi-cultural, genre-bending flavours and influences. What could be more surprising is how it all fits together so well. Manukyan is obviously one driven musician, and it is his skill, passion and understanding that seems to hold everything together on this excellent recording. His innovative approach to playing the cello like a bass emerged from a combination of his conservatory training and exposure to the music of legendary bass players, in particular Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller. “We listened to jazz 27 hours a day in our house,” he says. “At the time I didn’t know a cello player who played jazz, so I copied what the bass players were doing.” Out of this was born his unique style and sound, with this album the result of many years of nurturing and developing his playing, combined with a whole host of world-renowned musicians that add their own impressive contributions to what is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining album.

“Citizen” delivers 10 original compositions by Manukyan, some of which are breathtakingly bold and energetic whilst others employ a thoughtful, stirring beauty. One thing that is consistent throughout is the composer’s strong sense of identity, as heard through his confident cello playing. Highlights are many, and just as the listener thinks he knows what’s coming next, Manukyan is very adept at springing a surprise; from jazz to classical to rap to folk and electronics, there really is never a dull moment. This festival of music begins with the expressive “Sailors Song”, a rock-driven anthemic number that introduces the cellist in bold fashion. “Waltz for Maya” mixes subtle electronics with hauntingly beautiful laid back vocals, all in a classical setting. The gorgeous “CityZen” features the bass style of playing from the cellist before leading us into a lovely piano-cello folk melody, somewhat reminiscent of a Lars Daniellson tune. The energetic “Dark Matters” leads us into “3 Mas Dub” which highlights the technical skill and jazzy edginess of the cellist. Really nice production values here as rapper A. Chilla, pianist Tigran Hamasyan and percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan all combine to create a highly original piece of music. The darker “Old New Home” allows the core band; bassist Tim Lefebvre, pianist Vardan Ovsepian, drummer Jamire Williams and electronics maestro Troy Zeigler to lay down a wonderful platform for the unique improvisations of the cellist. “Turgut to be true” is awash with Brazilian/Flamenco flavours featuring the percussive talents of Arto and the guitar of Vahagni. Manukyan once again employs some clever and thoughtful production techniques, reminding me very much of Nitin Sawhney. “Duet N.1” is a stunning piece of music, with pianist Tigran and the cellist at their peak. There’s a distinctly cinematic feel to “All Yours” with the combinations of violins, electronic drums and rap artist A. Chills working very well together. The album closes with “Words”, a chamber music piece which rounds off this musical adventure very nicely as it slowly turns into a warm and welcoming jazz tune.

“Citizen” gives much to the listener, not least an introduction to a cellist who is anything but the run of the mill cello player one might have imagined prior to listening to this innovative and invigorating album. Supremely talented and with an extremely bright future, I can’t wait to see where Artyom Manukyan’s journeys take him next.

Mike Gates