Recommend on Twitter There is one thing even the most committed opponents to globalisation can be grateful for: The jazz of Armenia - although it first spread its wings in the s - could barely have produced global stars just a couple of decades ago.
Other jazz musicians would be wise to take note. But his heart is in the folk music of his native land, Armenia. Overall, this is his eighth recording as a sole leader. Conceptually, An Ancient Observer is a poignant album focusing on the art of observing. Tigran has toured internationally for a fan bass that ranges from adventurous jazz aficionados to progressive hardcore metal listeners.
Of his new recording, which he will be touring this spring in Europe and the U. This album is the observation of influences and experiences I had. Some of the pieces are through composed and completely written out while others are through composed but with ample space for Tigran to improvise. Many include vocals layered into the mix. Like most of his recordings, the influences of the music are manifold, ranging from classical Baroque dance to J-Dilla-esque hip-hop grooves adapted to piano to a few tracks with pedals connected to a synthesizer—though the Armenian influence, which makes his music so uniquely outstanding, is prominent.
Conceptually, The Ancient Observer is a poignant album focusing on the art of observing. The intertwining of this ancient with the modern world creates an existential feeling. When he was just a toddler, Tigran gravitated to tape players and the piano instead of regular childhood toys, and by the time he was 3, he was working his way through figuring out songs on piano by the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Queen.
He was a great teacher. I grew up with this incredible music without realizing it. Slowly I began to listen more to the folk music, and it shocked me how much it had been completely ignored. The more tunes I learned—listening to recordings from the Armenian Folk Radio channel—the more I saw the rich potential for merging those with improvised music. That started me on a lifetime journey. And the construct of the melody may have interval jumps and be played high up in the register then dropping down.
He performed at the First International Jazz Festival in Yerevan in , which opened up other performance opportunities, and returned to the festival for its second edition in , where he met Chick Corea, Avishai Cohen, Jeff Ballard and others. Tigran stayed in high school for two months before gaining entrance to the University of Southern California, which he attended for two years.
At the same time, he began to make contact with such jazz musicians as Alphonso Johnson and Alan Pasqua, and started gigging with saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood. At the time Tigran also played in the funk band Pinot. Tigran began his recording career with three albums on the French Plus Loin label as a leader: I met Areni, who is an Armenian born in L. I knew I had to get her for the album.
But she knew the Armenian folk repertoire, which is exactly what I needed. She can sing complicated rhythms almost like an instrument versus being a lead vocalist. The repertoire consists of mostly personal compositions as well as pieces by other composers that he had arranged.
The title track, a Tigran original, was written in Armenia six years ago. Two years later, Tigran returned with Shadow Theater featuring an extended loops-oriented band including a choral section, strings and saxes.
With its indie rock energy and electro-acoustic jazz improvisations steeped in Armenian music influences, the recording garnered the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music. Yet the common thread is the inventive way the music balances ethnicity with a modernist verve. Sometimes we sound like a heavy metal band or a dubstep DJ, or like some late 19th century Armenian composers such as Nikoghayos Tigranyan and Komitas, with newer harmonic and rhythmic approaches.
There is a sacrifice in it—sacrifice to try to elevate spiritually. There are ideas for the structure of the piano parts, but these are subject to change, bringing freedom and improvisation to notated classical composition and the sacred music tradition. You have to go deep into it. You have to be careful and have responsibility to the beauty.
But I did gain a classical audience that is used to hearing church music. Sometimes I even had heavy metal fans come to the choir concerts and loved it. I just write music for my longtime trio of Sam Minaie and Arthur Hnatek who play a huge part on how much the sound and the energy of the trio develops. I think the ability to improvise comes from whether the part of your brain has been activated to this state where you require a huge amount of knowledge and can carry this information in your brain to be executed when needed.
It is the balance among knowledge, control and the unexpected new creation. The craftsman was observing the same thing I can observe now, and what remains is his or her beautiful work of art.
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Other jazz musicians would be wise to take note.