After starting to play piano from the age of three, winning several jazz piano competitions and several albums, Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan has moved over to Nonesuch Records and released his seventh studio effort Mockroot.
To Love excitedly opens the album, mixing galloping jazz piano chords with beatboxing, shifting rhythms that almost rocks out, saxophones and wordless falsetto vocals. Double-Faced is a dramatic, operatic piece with rumbling drums that ultimately erupt with high-pitching, bee-like buzzing. The tribal Lilac mimics the aggression of rock bangers like Black Betty with its crashing cymbals and hyperactive synthesizer riffs. The spectacular lightening-fast, almost humanly impossible piano arpeggios, quavers and trills also dominate the grunt-infused To Negate, making listeners wonder what’s going through Hamasyan’s mind.
A long stay in 2013 in his birth country clearly inspired much of his work. Song for Melan and Rafik is mysterious, featuring Hamasyan’s piano floating above an ambient, Middle-Eastern influenced track interrupted by primitive, 8-bit-digital pulses that provide an uneasy rhythm. The track charges like a beast tottering between beauty and brutality. Another brief original piece, The Apple Orchard in Saghmosavanq, carries a recurring pattering drum motif hinting at the dropping of apples as if to prove Newton’s Law of Gravity. There are also covers of traditional Armenian pieces. A bizarre rendition of Kars 1 has drums smashing randomly for reasons unknown, whereas a more traditional, hymn-like performance of Kars 2 (Wounds of the Centuries) manages to pull off an epic, prog-rock, Knights of Cydonia-like breakdown suited for an invasion by foreigners.
Quieter moments also reward. The Roads That Bring Me Closer to You is a leisurely, wistful and breathy piece despite sustained chords, showcasing Hamasyan’s more nuanced piano performances. Entertain Me echoes the starkness of autumn or winter, yet brings warmth through its intricate piano parts and more pure falsetto. The grittier The Grid gives way to the appropriately tender piano epilogue (or is it a sequel?) Out of The Grid.
Hamasyan’s latest effort is a strange musical journey that has the odd head-scratching moment (like those drum parts that sound as if they were programmed by an unrhythmic user of Garageband) combines wide-ranging musical genres and characteristics. Who would have known that Armenian folk music could generally go well with improvised jazz piano jams and prog-rock influenced by Genesis and Pink Floyd?