Tigran Hamasyan: piano; Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Jan Bang: sampling.
Tigran Hamasyan is an Armenian pianist and composer whose unparalleled music is strongly built with elements of folk music from his country of origin.
The double-disc Atmosphéres, his ninth album and the second for the ECM label, has a trio of Norwegians in its lineup: Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Eivind Aarset on guitar, and Jan Bang on sampling.
Just by considering the instruments involved in this recording, one may expect to find accessible or even conventional music. But that’s not the case since Hamasyan’s compositions go beyond the expected. Moreover, Henriksen and Aarsen use their instruments in peculiar ways. The trumpeter, whose career has been highly influenced by minimal Japanese music, often sounds like a flutist. The guitarist, a manipulator of sound in the true sense of the word, opts to draw soft textural layers at every stroke.
The 15 pieces that populate this artistic work are divided into two subsets. The first comprises 10 originals from the quartet entitled “Traces”. The remaining five are compositions by Komitas, an Armenian priest, musicologist, and composer who is considered the founder of the Armenian national school of music.
The original compositions vary considerably in tone and structure. “Traces I” and “Traces III” are both gently textured. The first part maintains a dreamy atmosphere along the way while the third is a weeping song.
“Traces II” is far more provocative in its conception, moving straight ahead through stirring sequences of piano notes and floating trumpet melodies. It contrasts with “Traces IV”, which asks for a meditation with the sunset on the horizon, and “Traces X”, a darker song that arrives from somber realms.
“Traces VI” and “Traces VII” are great avant-garde compositions. The former brings some madness and the right amount of ambiguity to an instrumental conversation; the latter, is oddly percussive, strategically layered, and becomes minimalist as it moves forward.
The airy “Tsirani Tsar” and the meticulous “Shushiki”, both by Komitas, are inevitably strong highlights.
Through the erudite interpretations of the quartet, we are able to experience a different culture and apprehend its sounds. It’s almost as if we were physically visiting another world. Once there, we can’t escape the dazzle caused by exotic scents and the sight of stunning landscapes.
Atmosphéres will reward those who don’t give up at the first listening.
Label: ECM, 2016
02 (cd1) – Tsirani Tsar ► 07 (cd1) – Traces VI ► 01 (cd2) – Traces VII