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Album Reviews

Album Review: Tigran Hamasayan - The Call Within (Warners/Nonesuch)

John Fenton

Any album by the brilliant Armenian Jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan is going to elevate our spirits, and his new release, The Call Within does just that. The title suggests quiet introspection, but instead, a vast cosmology is revealed. It is infinitely expansive and any expectations of meditative reflection should therefore be set aside. In the album, Hamasyan utilises the richness of his birthplace Armenia, but in doing so he paints the tunes onto a broader canvas.

The Call Within features a core trio plus guests. The guests however, are deeply integrated into the mix and the unit often feels like a medium-sized ensemble. Alongside Hamasyan: Evan Marien (bass) and Arthur Hnatek (drums). Guests: Tosin Abasi (guitar), Areni Agbabian (vocals) and Artyom Manukyan (cello).  The generous use of keyboards interwoven with piano is also a factor in providing this unusually rich palette. 

AppFeatured TigranHamasyan

Tigran Hamasayan (Image supplied)

The first track, "Levitation 21" begins with a meditative chant over a simple motif. Then, without warning, the music comes at you like a freight train. This sudden mood switch is deftly executed and it sets up an other-worldly syncopation. The effect constantly catches you off guard as the tension rises then drops. It is call and response and it is stop-time but not as we know it.

The use of stop-time is even more pronounced on "Our Film" and as the album progresses, the listener becomes aware of many such contrasts. Some of these contrasting figures are deftly interwoven, placing one inside of the other. The heavily percussive co-exists with gently rippling arpeggios, which by contrast, are played with extraordinary delicacy. And over this come the drums and bass who dance like magical dervishes.

On "Old Maps", rippling arpeggios introduce a celestial choir and the notes fall from Hamasyan’s fingertips like rain drops. I especially loved this track, as it felt like the universe singing to humanity. Poets and musicians are beguiled by maps and love them as archetypes. The maps theme is again updated in the last piece titled "New Maps".

There are quieter moments as well, such as the intriguingly titled "At a Post-Historic Seashore" but whatever the mood, your attention never flags. As each new vista appears you feel like a wayfarer on a beguiling quest. This is the genius of the album and what ever the phrase or section, you feel like it is was just for you. Throughout, Hamasyan draws on ancient Armenian  scales and on modality. Perhaps that is why it sounds both familiar and exotic.

At each turn, Hamasyan and his collaborators deliver energised performances and in doing so they shake us from our pandemic-induced inertia. This is the album we need right now. It is an affirmation of all that is wonderful in the world. It is European Jazz at its finest. Like his three previous albums, this one has been released on the Warners ‘Nonesuch’ label. It is available through Bandcamp or from record stores.

Tigran Hamasyan (keyboards, piano, voices), Evan Marien (electric bass), Arthur Hnatek (drums) and with guests: Tosin Abasi (guitar), Areni Agbabian (vocals), Artyom Manukyan (cello).

Buy on Bandcamp HERE

Released August 2020

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Written By: John Fenton John Fenton was educated by books and bohemians; the equivalent of being raised by wolves. His interests: jazz, poetry, philosophy, literature & the visual arts. He is a jazz journalist, music blogger, Gonzo journalist, guerrilla commentator & social activist. He lives in Auckland, is married, and wrangles several cats. His long running blog is https://jazzlocal32.com/