This quartet came together at the suggestion of ECM label head Manfred Eicher after hearing a Punkt Festival recording of pianist Tigran Hamasyan in duo with live sampling musician Jan Bang. The addition of trumpeter Arve Henriksen and guitarist Eivind Aarset increased the textural possibilities, as well as providing a solo trumpet voice. Hamasyan was preparing an album of choral arrangements of Armenian sacred musichis ECM debut Luys i Luso (2015)so Armenian themes from Komitas Vardapet were incorporated into this quartet album too. They function as anchors in the midst of the improvisational flow across the 90-minute, two disc program.
Jan Bang collaborated on Eivind Aarset's Dream Logic (ECM, 2012), and Bang and Aarset were both on Henriksen's seminal Cartography (ECM, 2010), among other ECM appearances. Hamasyan is responsible for the Komitas content, but he also takes the lead in the improvisational tracks. "Traces I" opens the set with a trio improvisation without trumpet, giving some sense of how the Punkt performance may have sounded. "Tsirani tsar" is the first Komitas composition, and also raises the first question about Aarset and Bang's roles. Is the backwards loop texture produced by Aarset's guitar, Bang's samples of the guitar, or both? There's no way to tell. One thing for sure: Aarset never plays anything like a conventional guitar solo. He's all about atmosphere.
The first disc also includes two versions of Komitas' "Garun a," which demonstrate the varied approaches taken. The first comes out of "Traces V," introduced by the piano then taken up by Henriksen's trumpetthe reedy sound he gets is especially appropriate here, sounding similar to the Armenian double-reed flute called the duduk. The variant that closes the disc has a much clearer, more straightforward statement of Komitas' melody.
"Traces VII" opens the second disc with a very dense texture, the most audible proof of Bang's sampling activities. Two of the Komitas selections on this disc were also played on folk instruments by the Gurdjieff Ensemble on Komitas (ECM, 2015). "Shushiki" gets a more abstract treatment here, but "Hoy, Nazan" is played straight: the main difference between the two performances is the sound of the instruments. "Traces X" is an especially delicate final improvisation. The brief final track includes another bit of outside influence, combining "Angel of Girona" (after the 19th century Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz) with Komitas' "Qeler tsoler."
In the tradition of many improvisational ECM recordings the entire double album was completed in just three days, recorded and mixed in one pass. This is playing and listening at a high level, by four musicians with a unified vision, despite never having played together before in this combination. The Armenian music brings a unique flavor to the proceedings, making for improvisation with a difference.
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