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Tigran Hamasyan: The Call Within (Nonesuch)

A review of the Armenian pianist's fourth album for Nonesuch

Tigran Hamasyan: The Call Within
The cover of The Call Within by Tigran Hamasyan

For his fourth release for Nonesuch, the Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan has stated that he chose to let his inner soul dictate the shape of the music. He looked to art, poetry, astrology, cinematography, and other disciplines for his inspiration. Then, to get the music where he wanted it, he eschewed most extraneous contributions and stuck to the classic trio format, with Evan Marien providing the bass, Arthur Hnatek the drums, and just a few select guests to spice things up. When he cared to make a grander statement than his piano allowed, Hamasyan turned to electronic keyboards for a more widescreen effect.

Whether the leader’s muse is apparent while bathing in The Call Within’s 10 richly designed tracks, all written and produced by Hamasyan, is negligible; the music stands on its own devoid of any background details. Its greatest strength is in the several divergent guises it assumes. “Old Maps,” inspired by same, and featuring the Varduhi Art School Children’s Choir, is appropriately divine in nature, a mélange of pacifying notes and voices floating just out of reach. “Levitation 21,” the combustible opener, couldn’t be more contrasting in nature: Its high-velocity forcefulness sneaks up, then Hamasyan and Hnatek race to parts unknown, making hairpin turns and throwing a few bolts along the way.

When it does keep within the typical piano-trio format, the music often flirts with the tenets of prog rock, as if the Mahavishnu Orchestra had been led by a pianist or Emerson, Lake & Palmer had lived a jazz life. “Ara Resurrected,” one such track, hovers near bombast, but these musicians are crafty enough to keep it lean and moving, while on the set-closing “New Maps,” seriously dissimilar to the “Old Maps” heard earlier, each of the three delights in lobbing rhythmic bombs from the sky, directly into your brain.

Preview or download The Call Within on Amazon!

Jeff Tamarkin

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Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.