Tigran Hamasyan, StandArt Review
by Ferell Aubre
Tigran Hamasyan is releasing StandArt on Nonesuch Records. This album marks the pianist and composer’s first album of American standards and comprises songs from the 1920s through the 1950s by Richard Rodgers, Charlie Parker, Jerome Kern, David Raksin, and others. In addition, the album includes an improvised selection. Hamasyn’s bandmates are bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Justin Brown and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire appearing on two of the album’s tracks. Other special guests include saxophonist and label-mate Joshua Redman on Charlie Parker’s “Big Foot” and saxophonist Mark Turner on Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are.” “With this record, I really wanted to apply different techniques and ideas I’ve developed over the years to a repertoire that I finally had an opportunity to re-visit and send a message that I really appreciate this music and am thankful for it,” he says. “I love these compositions and melodies so much that, to me, it’s like Armenian folk music. As an immigrant—an Armenian-American—I relate to these composers and musicians from various backgrounds who have that kind of history, a dark history, but managed to succeed in an embodiment of freedom. In that way, I feel like I want to be part of this, to find something in the tradition of where I came from.”
“De-Dah” is the trio exploring the rhythmic possibilities of this catchy melody. Originally released on a Lou Donaldson 78 rpm (Blue Note 1624), Hamasyan keeps the theme of changing feels but brings that into today’s jazz language. Hamasyan’s solo drives with his clean percussive attack with his right hand as he spins out technically brilliant passages. Brown’s interactions and accompanying are energetic and build the energy as Brewer keeps the pulse and harmonic movement grounded. A strong opening statement to the great music still to come.
Every jazz fan knows “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” inside and out. Here the trio brings their harmonic and rhythmic language to create a moving modern statement that is powerful and filled with modern jazz expressions. The trio does a tremendous job of building sections and creating phrases with peaks and valleys. The melody is a central theme in Hamasyan’s improvisation as he develops around it. Brewer’s bowing in the middle of the selection adds interest and a subtle twist of orchestration. Overall, hearing this trio re-imagine this standard is a real treat.
StandArt is nine tracks that express the rhythmic and harmonic colors of today’s jazz in the hands of a very capable piano trio. The special guest adds a hue change and augmentation of the energy, leading to a very enjoyable and flowing listen as a whole. The fresh interpretation of familiar material gives the listener a chance to dig deeper into Hamasyan’s musical mind, as the trio focuses on making each phrase have a shape and varying degrees of activity. The result is a nuanced modern jazz exploration of the still endless possibilities of great songwriting from the American standards.