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May 2008

Tigran Hamasyan
New Era
Nocturne

Of today’s most discussed piano prodigies, only Matt Savage was born in the United States. Eldar Djangirov is from Kyrgyzstan, Alessandro Lanzoni and Giovanni Guidi are from Italy, and Tigran Hamasyan was born in Armenia. Djangirov has the most mind-boggling chops; Guidi is the most adventurous; Lanzoni (although he is the youngest) has the most developed understanding of the classic jazz repertoire. Hamasyan is the best composer.

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Armen Hamasyan

Tigran Hamasyan

Hamasyan writes complex headlong blues like “Homesick” and then intensifies that complexity through improvisation while retaining an arc of form. For the title track, he conceives a promising musical nucleus, a call in two measures of suggestive piano/bass unison, a response in four measures of circling piano variations. Then he repeats the pattern into an incantation and then a crashing crisis. “Leaving Paris” is remarkable as a piercing personal reminiscence and concentrated node of minor-key lyricism, and more remarkable for the way Hamasyan’s transfigurations are all illuminating, with no wasted notes.

Further confirmations of breadth and depth are his ability to transform metrically unusual Armenian folksongs (“Aparani Par,” “Zada es”) into jazz, and to rethink and resyncopate jazz (“Well, You Needn’t,” “Solar”) into postmodern Armenian/American folksongs. The piece that encapsulates Hamasyan’s 20-year history into eight minutes is “Memories From Hankavan and Now.” It starts serenely, in the mountains of Armenia, and ends in the electrified squawky urban funk of Los Angeles, where Hamasyan now resides. The Moutin brothers, bassist François and drummer Louis, are among the few rhythm sections energetic enough to keep up with Hamasyan.

Originally published in May 2008
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