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Pianist Tigran Hamasyan's Shadow Theater is an innovative convergence of composition and folk music from his birthplace in Armenia. Having performed since the age of three, gained acclaimed in Europe and won first place at the 2006 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, there's never been a question of his abilities. He shines in a traditional jazz trio setting in 2007's New Era (Plus Loin Music) with brothers Francois Moutin (bass) and Louis Moutin (drums) or showcasing virtuoso exploits in his 2011 solo release Fable (Verve).
With musicians that include members of the jazz-rock band Kneebody (drummer Nate Wood and saxophonist Ben Wendel) and others, Hamasyan's distinctive musicality blends jazz, European classical music and an array of influences like progressive-rock and DJ mixing. Yet the common thread is the inventive way the music balances ethnicity with a modernist verve. This propels "Erishta" via traditional melodies interlaced with electronics and beautiful vocals by talented folklorist Areni Agbabian as well as the peculiar "Drip" which mixes Armenian folk music, sampling, and groovy jazz saxophone.
The program is sprinkled with an assortment of hymns, ballads, and moving pieces such as "Lament" which juxtaposes powerful strings and tender vocals and the transcendent "Pagan Lullaby" highlighting Hamasyan on keyboard, piano, and voice. "The Court Jester" and "Road Song" are unwavering examples of writing and improvisation with their vigorous changes and odd time signatures, but equally engaging through catching melodies and Hamasyan's intrepid sense of imagination in one of the year's more memorable recordings.
Track Listing: The Poet; Erishta; Lament; Drip; The Year Is Gone; Seafarer; The Court Jester; Pagan Lullaby; Pt1 Collapse; Pt2 Alternative Universe; Holy; Road Song.
Personnel: Tigran Hamasyan: piano, keyboards; Areni Agbabian: vocals; Ben Wendel: saxophone; Sam Minaie: bass; Chris Tordini: bass; Nate Wood: drums; Jean-Marc Phillips Varjabedian: violin; Xavier Phillips: cello; Jan Bang: programming; David Kiledjian: programming.