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Tigran Hamasyan: For Gyumri (Nonesuch)

Review of EP by the Armenian jazz pianist

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Cover of Tigran Hamasyan album For Gyumri
Cover of Tigran Hamasyan album For Gyumri

Gyumri, Armenia, is the city where Tigran Hamasyan was born nearly 31 years ago and where he first placed his hands on the keys of a piano at age 9. In his teens his family moved to L.A., but Hamasyan always retained a soft spot for his homeland. He’s since returned to Armenia, and he honors his hometown with this five-track, 30-minute EP. Hamasyan considers For Gyumri a companion piece to last year’s An Ancient Observer. As on the previous release, Hamasyan alternates unadulterated solo-piano meditations with more ambitious outings that incorporate simple but effective ornamentation. Put another way, while most of For Gyumri is just the man and his piano, the artist inserts the occasional treated voices and instrumentation to spice things up.

If Hamasyan’s inspiration is the thread that ties these pieces together, he’s taken great care to ensure that each makes its own statement. “Aragatz” leads things off, and at first owes as much to the solemnity of a classical recital as to jazz. He doesn’t stay there long, though, and by midway Hamasyan is navigating the keyboard in full, striking down hard and plucking out heavy rhythms in the lower register. Then he’s off again, swapping idiosyncratic chords worthy of Monk and flawlessly executed right-hand runs.

“Rays of Light” is the EP’s most introspective deliberation. Hamasyan finds a tone he likes and allows it to sit there a while and resonate in the room, then repeats the exercise, eventually introducing swells of mild orchestration. For the interchangeably dynamic and serene finale, the 12-minute “Revolving – Prayer,” Hamasyan, no effects in sight, takes off here and there, wherever his whims lead. He’s home there too.

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Read Michael J. West’s review of the  album Mockroot by Tigran Hamasyan. 

Read Larry Appelbaum’s profile of the pianist Tigran Hamasyan from the November 2006 issue of JazzTimes.

Originally Published