In its ever-evolving state, jazz invites into its fold imaginative artists who freely and courageously pursue their own vision, not only built on tradition but also infused with their own personality and passion. In the case of pianist/keyboardist Tigran Hamasyan, potent jazz improvisation fuses with the rich folkloric music of his native Armenia. Turning 30 in 2017, he’s one of the most remarkable and distinctive jazz-meets-rock pianists of his generation. Tigran’s fresh sound is marked by an exploration of time signatures beyond 4/4 into 5/4 and 9/8, charged dynamics, the shifting between acoustic and electric modes of expression, all undergirded by an affinity to the grind of heavy metal.
A piano virtuoso with groove power, Tigran’s latest adventurous project is The Ancient Observer, his second solo album and his sophomore recording for Nonesuch. It’s a collection of new original compositions written over the course of the last three to four years—two of which are based on Armenian melodies. 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.