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A Mix Of Old And New In Armenian Jazz Pianist Tigran's 'Mockroot'

Tigran (center) with the other two members of his trio: Sam Minair, who plays bass, and Arthur Hnatek, on drums. (Maeve Stam/Nonesuch)
Tigran (center) with the other two members of his trio: Sam Minair, who plays bass, and Arthur Hnatek, on drums. (Maeve Stam/Nonesuch)
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Visit the website of Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and you’ll see a menu item labeled “poems” leading to translations of Armenian poems. Evidently, Tigran is heavily influenced by poetry. Listening to his music, one can imagine the other potential menu items — Armenian folk songs, progressive rock, heavy metal, electronic music, jazz standards, classical piano — the list would be endless, the scope of Tigran’s music is so broad.

Tigran, 27, will bring his trio, which includes Sam Minaie on bass and Arthur Hnatek on drums, to the Regattabar on Feb. 24. The show is part of a record release tour of "Mockroot," which was released by Nonesuch Records in the U.S. on Feb. 17. The album features the trio with Tigran on piano, voice, keyboards, synths and sound effects, as well as vocalist Gayanée Movsisyan. Tigran also brings in his quintet with Areni Agbabian on vocals, Ben Wendel on saxophone, Chris Tordini on bass and Nate Wood on drums for "Song for Melan & Rafik".

Here's Tigran's quintet:

Tigran grew up in Armenia and studied classical piano, sang standards with a big band and considered being a thrash metal guitarist before focusing on jazz inspired interpretations of Armenian folk songs. He moved to California as a teenager and studied at the University of Southern California and then the New School in New York. When he was still a teenager, Tigran won the prestigious Thelonious Monk jazz piano competition and has five albums out as a leader, including "Mockroot."

Here's solo voice and piano performance:

Choppy, intricate rhythmic passages interlaced with tender, almost hymnal sounding melodies. In a way, this is a musical reflection of what Tigran says is the overarching theme of "Mockroot": “It’s the idea that nature is constantly mocking humanity. Whatever we impose upon it, nature will always win. Technology has taken us into crazy areas, but we need a core of humanity to make sense of the world.”

Here's a preview of "Mockroot":

Variations of the tension that Tigran describes between nature and humanity are present throughout "Mockroot." On “Kars I” we hear the contrast of old and new: a famous Armenian folk song set to the back-beat of Tigran’s modern arrangement. There’s the clash of acoustic instruments like drum and piano with various electronic instruments.

A new project is already in the works for Tigran. Set to be released in September 2015, “Luys i Luso” will feature Tigran on piano arranging for the Yerevan state chamber choir. This is surely the beginning, but, if we’re measuring by experience and maturity, it feels like the middle of an exciting career.

Claire Dickson Contributor, The ARTery
Claire Dickson is a jazz vocalist and writer studying at Harvard College.

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