Assembled at the invitation of ECM label-founder Manfred Eicher, pianist Tigran Hamasyan, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset and electronic sampling artist, Jan Bang came together for less than one half of a week in mid-2014 to create the double CD Atmosphères. There is a fair amount of inter-group history, Hamasyan being more the outsider but having worked with Bang at the 2013 Punkt Festival. There is, not surprisingly, a pristine quality to the music that one would expect from the ECM label.
These are all players of great subtlety and that is where the musicat well over two hoursis challenging. Bang's live sampling actually adds to the elusiveness of pointillism, as he feeds in, and out, the content of the other players as opposed using electronics as a stand-alone, instrumental variable. It requires patience and careful listening to uncover distinct soundscapes in many of these compositions.
The bass-less, drummer-less quartet is saturated in atmosphere (as the title would indicate) and the collection takes its time in building to a visceral impact. The mix of original compositions (mostly collective efforts) and traditional Armenian folk tunes opens with the classically framed "Traces I"; Hamasyan's piano set against the drone of Bang and Henriksen. On "Tsirani Tsar," Henriksen expertly mimics the Armenian flute leading to a more jolting "Traces II" where Hamasyan's torrent of notes meets an avant-garde backdrop. Similarly, "Traces IV" finds the quartet in an ethereal environment dominated by Henriksen's ethereal trumpet. The first disc closes with "Garun A," a beautifully haunting piece that highlights the lyrical talents of the pianist and trumpeter.
The second disc of Atmosphères begins in a more adventurous spirit with "Traces VII." At almost ten minutes, it builds to a swirling cacophony of delicately dropped notes from Hamasyan layered over his bandmates refined suggestions of discriminating technical artistry. Though more low-key, the subsequent "Traces VIII" has an off-kilter melancholy that is thoroughly engaging. "Shushiki" and "Hoy Nazan"like "Garun A" from disc oneare compositions from an Armenian priest, musicologist and composer who came to be known as Komitas and whose history includes his exile by the Ottoman Empire during the time of the time of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. He is regarded as the founder of the Armenian National School of Music and is revered among the Armenian people and throughout Eastern Europe.
Within Atmosphères there is a sense of moving from the antiquity of Komitas to creative improvisation, neither completely independent of the other. Because the album successfully exists in two worlds, it has broad appeal and in equal measure for those with an affinity for either. Aarset and Bang's contributions may not always be distinct on first listen but the guitarist provides a denser layer to the music while Bang adds a minimalis variation of orchestration. Atmosphères is warm and appealing without being emphatic.
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