Album Reviews

Tigran Hamasyan – Mockroot

(Nonesuch) UK release date: 26 Januaruy 2015

Tigran Hamasyan - Mockroot When Herbie Hancock declares a fellow pianist to be “his teacher now”, you’re well advised to sit up and take note. Still only 27 years old, the Armenian-born, American raised pianist Tigran Hamasyan was the very recipient of such praise and Mockroot, his sixth studio album and the first on Warner imprint Nonesuch records following a stint on Universal label Verve, is his latest attempt to live up to that billing.

Hamasyan’s output to date has been nothing if not varied. His early works hinted at a pianist who was more at home in prog-rock territory, however his solo piano album A Fable (2011) is a beautiful contemporary jazz-classical set that drew on the traditional folk melodies of his homeland.

He developed this further with last year’s Shadow Theater (in the process dumping his surname, now to be known as ‘Tigran’), a world-pop album that combined traditional Armenian vocals and instruments with modern electronics, held together by a contemporary jazz trio. The end result was an astonishing mix of styles that was part world-jazz experimentalism and part post-rock muscular pop, straying remarkably close to a case of ‘too many ideas, not enough room’, but just about staying the course.

So, to Mockroot, which at first look is something of a compromise between A Fable and Shadow Theater, with both fragile beauty and rock muscle in evidence. The influence of his homeland is still prevalent, with two arrangements of traditional Armenian folk-songs (Kars 1 & Kars 2), and tetrachordal melodies in abundance, however most of the vocals and traditional instruments have been pared back in favour of a tighter, rectified rock trio, Tigran here joined by bassist Sam Minaie and Arthur Hnatek on drums and electronic duties.

Album opener To Love features a gently hummed falsetto melody, which is mirrored by Tigran’s right hand piano line, a stylistic motif repeated throughout the album. Song For Melan and Rafik begins in much the same way before Hnatek’s crescendo of cymbals builds to a tight prog-riff from both piano and bass, the syncopated beat sitting uneasily between the ethereal vocal work and Tigran’s jagged melody line.

His dynamic range is superb on The Apple Orchard in Saghmosavanq, beautifully orchestrated piece of dream-pop that features vocal chanting backed by Hamasyan’s restrained piano, before building into a wonderfully cinematic soundscape. The Roads That Bring Me Closer To You and Lilac are equally beautiful, the latter a melancholic yet playful solo piano interlude shortly before the brutality of Entertain Me hits in.

In a recent interview, Tigran confessed his love of heavy rock (“I’d love to front a thrash metal band”) and he has even gone as far as to collaborate with fellow Armenian, System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian. This penchant for the heavier side of music is none more evident than on Entertain Me where Hamasyan and co do their best Meshuggah impression – a stuttering, stumbling heavy riff laying down the foundations for some impressive soloing from the pianist. Two-part album closer The Grid and Out Of The Grid also employ great use of precision time signatures and jagged, angular riffing, Hamasyan pummelling the piano into submission whilst also giving a synthesiser a hard time.

Tigran’s versatility and eclecticism coupled with the technical ability to pull all these influences together make him undoubtedly one of the finest pianists working today. However, Mockroot is a restless, unsatisfying listen, there are too many ideas on display and for all the intensity and raw power on show, his greatest asset is his lightness of touch and lyricism, moments of which they’re just aren’t enough.

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