CD Review: Tigran Hamasyan A Fable

Tigran Hamasyan. A Fable
(Verve - Universal Music France) 276 0686 6. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Tigran Hamasyan, Armenian-born, now a US resident, is a monster pianist. He's aged just 24. He won the Monk competition in Washington as a teenager in 2006, and was second in the Martial Solal Competition in Paris in the same year. Pull-out quotes give a flavour of the calibre of people who have already clocked his substantial musicality:

- “He plays piano like a raga, the next Keith Jarrett”. (Trilok Gurtu)
- “Tigran really grabbed me, because it’s got several things going on at once. It has a really wild odd-meter thing, and this distorted, aggressive piano treatment. And the harmony is kind of jazz-fusiony." (Brad Mehldau)
- “A..may..zing! Now, Tigran, you are my teacher!” (Herbie Hancock)

I heard him, solo and in duo with Jeff Ballard, and met him at the EJE in Cagliari earlier in the summer, and hugely enjoyed the experience.

A Fable, released today in the UK on the French Verve label,  is his fourth album. There have been three previous collaborative albums for the French Nextbop label: World Passion (2006) with saxophonist/ producer Ben Wendel and drummer Ari Hoenig, New Era (2008) in a trio with the Moutin twins, and Red Hail (2009) with his LA- based band Aratta Rebirth, which also showcases his beatboxing skills, and features singer Areni Agbabian.

The new album is more acoustic and pianistic than its predecessors. Hamasyan dispenses with the services of the lively drummers - Ari Hoenig, Francois Moutin and Nate Smith - whom he has had for company on previous albums. There are quite a few tracks for solo piano. At its best the album shows off Hamasyan's compositions and his exuberant playing to good avantage. But overall I found my responses to the album very mixed, and having heard him live, won't disguise disappointment.

The opening track, Rain Shadow, reminiscent of Satie's Gnossienne No 1, has great charm, the re-harmonization of  Some Day My Prince Will Come, as if seen through the prism of Prokofiev via Brad Mehldau, definitely bears repeated listening.

The Armenian heritage is there too. He takes a traditional children's song "Kakavik" for an extended six minute virtuoso walk, in which interest and momentum are sustained throughout. But there are parts of the album which I found an extremely uncomfortable listen. The piano is uncomfortably close-miked, and when the volume rises, such as in a track like The Legend Of The Moon, this listener begged to be somewhere further from the hammers of the piano. The wordless singing on A Memory That Became a Dream is also a bit of an aquired taste. There is also a problem with extraneous noise. In A Fable there are curious noises-off from the piano mechanism, and in the singing such as in a track like Longing, the snatches for breath between sung phrases are very intrusive, sometimes louder than the singing.

I'd give hearing Tigran HAmasyan live an unqualified recommendation: people should take the opportunity to hear him in concert, such as in the Queen Elizabeth Halll later this month with Trilok Gurtu, . I look forward to hearing a future CD in which Tigran's astonishing range as composer and pianist will be shown off to best advantage throughout.

Trilok Gurtu and Tigran Hamasyan on the South Bank September 24th

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your review, Sebastian. I saw him in a free concert with the Moutins (or was it F. Moutin and Ari Hoenig?) in 2007 and it wasn't quite what I was expecting, or prepared to be receptive to at the time. More recently, I've recorded his solo performance at this year's Jazz sous les Pommiers off the telly and got a magazine cover disk with two (again solo) audio tracks and one short video. There's no doubt that he's highly original and remarkably skilled but I haven't found myself warming to him at all. I'm sure he'd repay a bit more listening effort but I haven't yet got myself into the frame of mind to make it. This review might encourage me to do so.