Armenian-born, Los Angeles-raised pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan is one of the 21st century's true slipstream musicians. His work crosses boundaries between jazz, crossover classical, electronic, vocal, and Armenian folk musics. He often integrates these genres in a single recording, as evidenced by 2013's Shadow Theater, where jazz, classical motifs, and electronics intertwined. Two years later, Luys i Luso recontextualized sacred music from five centuries in modern piano/voices setting. After repatriating to Armenia, he issued the For Gyumri (his home village) EP in 2018. Its five tracks showcased his virtuoso pianism, wordless vocals, Baroque dance, and Armenian music atop electronic backdrops and hip-hop beats.
Hamasyan was born in 1987 in Gyumri, Armenia. He began playing the family's piano at three and was enrolled in music school at six. When he was ten years old, his family immigrated to Los Angeles. Although initially moved by the rock sounds of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles -- Hamasyan would focus his sights musically on jazz after studying with Vahag Hayrapetyan, a former student of jazz legend Barry Harris. As a teen, he became an adept jazz pianist. Moved by the sounds of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis, Hamasyan found himself part of the festivities at the Yerevan Second International Jazz Festival in 2000. He would go on just a few years later to win a number of contests, one of which was at the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival.
With his band Aratta Rebirth, he issued Red Hail in 2009. Two years later, he released the solo piano and vocal outing A Fable (credited simply as Tigran), his debut for Verve. In 2013, Hamasyan issued the widely acclaimed Shadow Theater, backed by a band, strings, voices, and Jan Bang's electronics. That year, he won the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music. Mockroot, his debut for Nonesuch in 2015, offered original electro-acoustic compositions as well as a traditional Armenian song. Hamasyan made his ECM debut that year with Luys i Luso. Cut a year earlier in the company of the Yerevan State Chamber Choir and conducted by Harutyun Topikyan, it showcased Armenian sacred music from the fifth to the 20th century in arrangements for solo piano and chorus. While his homeland's traditional music remained a continuing source for investigation and creative inspiration, he returned to jazz with 2016's double-length Atmospheres on ECM, an electro-acoustic collaboration with Europeans Arve Henriksen, Bang, and Eivind Aarset.
Hamasyan returned to live in Armenia in 2016. He issued his second album for Nonesuch, An Ancient Observer, in March 2017. Recorded and mixed primarily in France by Antoine Gaillet for FLAM Music, it featured compositions written over the previous four years -- two based on traditional Armenian melodies. Some pieces were through-composed, while others offered less-formal frameworks, leaving space for improvisation. As is his trademark, musical influences proved myriad, ranging from classical Baroque dance and Armenian folk music to J-Dilla-esque hip-hop grooves adapted for piano to tracks with pedals connected to a synthesizer. Five additional tracks from those sessions appeared in 2018 as the EP For Gyumri; titled for his hometown, it was prefaced by the video single "Rays of Light."
Hamasyan recorded The Call Within in various American studios in late 2019 and early 2020. Comprised of ten original compositions, his primary accompanists included electric bassist Evan Marien and Arthur Hnatek on drums. It also featured several key guests including vocalist and longtime collaborator Areni Agbabian, cellist Artyom Manukyan, guitarist Tosin Abasi, and the Varduhi Art School Children's Choir. Produced by Hamasyan, the album's aesthetic goal was to offer a journey into the pianist's dreamlike inner world, taking inspiration from his interest in historical maps, poetry, Armenian folk stories, ancient Armenian design, astrology, geometry, rock carvings, and cinematography. It was released by Nonesuch in July 2020.
© Chris True /TiVo