Photo courtesy of Nonesuch Records

On ‘For Gyumri’, Tigran Hamasyan Wraps His Virtuosic Skill in Emotive Sonic Structures

The natural modal passion of folk and the acrobatic intensity of a musical genius are constantly at work in Tigran Hamasyan's music.

For Gyumri
Tigran Hamasyan
16 Feb 2018

Named for his hometown in Armenia, Tigran Hamasyan’s latest EP is a companion piece to last year’s complex yet accessible
An Ancient Observer. Known for his ability to bring a glut of styles to boil in his exciting and emotive compositions, For Gyumri is no exception as many of these atmospheric arrangements reach emotive highs. Expanding or perhaps distancing from its companion album, these songs are lithe and commanding forms of sonic expression that, while structured, are very essentially focused on being boundless.

The album opens with the soft pulsating melody of “Aragatz”. Taking its name from an Armenian mountain imbued with mystical history, the song is inoculated with the forces of the preternatural. The piece slowly builds as Hamasyan evokes a reclusive spiritualism with a background textured with monkish humming and his own soft percussive scatting. The climbing, ethereal crescendos in the final third of the song parallel the holy ascendance associated with summit the sacred peak. Thus, Hamasyan’s album has properly been introduced, the gateway into an aural landscape dissociated from this world properly entered.

The rest of the
An Ancient Observer rings with similar sonic ideas that Hamasyan has touched upon in the past, however, this time he seems to experiment with more understated textures playfully. The vocal contributions to “Aragatz”, the soft whistling of “The American”, and the ethereal echoes in “Rays of Light” accentuate a mysterious element to these arrangements. Never has Hamasyan’s music been as poignant, melodic, complex, and easily listenable.

And as always, the virtuosic piano of Hamasyan manipulates your attention with startling ease considering its extreme complexity. Perhaps two explanations to this master’s style are his comments that he would love to front a thrash metal band and that he views his project as an application of an Armenian folk sensibility into jazz arrangements. The consequence of both of these aspirations is on constant display here as both the natural modal passion of folk and the acrobatic intensity of a musical genius are constantly at work in his music. Perhaps the pinnacle of the EP is the epic closing track “Revolving – Prayer”. A 12-minute, folk-jazz masterwork, all of Hamasyan’s strengths are on display. Fully narrative and thematic, the song weaves its way through motivic evolutions to arrive at a destination of morose tranquility, exhausted, at the end of a long, arduous journey.

Altogether this is a strong EP that refuses to be taken as an afterthought and embraces weighty themes of its own. An amalgamation of musical style, with scattered, twisted soloing, pounding blues turnarounds, Armenian folk, and jazzy improvisation, Hamasyan is as exciting and vibrant as ever. Confessing that these songs were written about “the weight of history, we carry with us” it is no coincidence that each of these tracks seems to all reach for liberation. Ever present as always is Hamasyan’s scattering and playful beatboxing which perhaps still best embodies his musical approach. Derived from the conception of “bol” in Indian music, this organic keeping of rhythm prevents him from becoming too technical in his genius and allows his music to outrun boundaries and wander only where Hamasyan’s free-wheeling mind takes him.

RATING 7 / 10