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Jazz musician Hamasyan sought soul food in Armenia: Georgia Straight

Jazz musician Hamasyan sought soul food in Armenia: Georgia Straight

PanARMENIAN.Net - The lure of Armenia, coupled with family necessity, led American jazz pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan to return to Yerevan from California as an adult, and make a new life there surrounded by music and relatives and love, Canadian weekly news and entertainment newspaper The Georgia Straight says in a fresh article.

“It’s really a different kind of world here, compared to Europe or the U.S.,” the 30-year-old pianist reports in a Skype conversation from the Armenian capital.

“There are challenges that are different here, and the challenge isn’t like living in New York. But there is definitely a lot of culture that I need for myself, like the soul food that I need, which is mostly the reason why I went back. Also there’s some kind of freedom I have here that I don’t have in other places. There are things that I can do that I wouldn’t be able to do if, say, I was living in L.A. or Paris. A lot of it has to do with the people and their traditions, and the way they live their life here. And also just being able to wake up and drive for 15 minutes and end up in a seventh-century monastery in the mountains… These are the things and places that inspire me to create, I guess.”

Hamasyan didn’t always admire his roots. “Actually,” he says, “I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Later on I got into jazz, and I really hated Armenian folk music because all I wanted to play was bebop. But a few years later, some records came out on the ECM label—like Jan Garbarek records, Keith Jarrett records—and I realized that folk music can give you a different approach to improvisation, a different musical vocabulary you can use to improvise. So all these things led me into folk music in general, and to my own folk music.”

“I’m basically arranging Armenian religious music, church music from the fifth to the 20th centuries, for piano and a choir,” Hamasyan notes.

“This was something where I really had to be able to stay here to get this project going, because I had to find the right choir and work with them for six months nonstop before we could record. So it was a long process, but it was a really beautiful project—and definitely a learning experience.”

Hamasyan is currently working on a large-scale commission from the New York City–based vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. In the as-yet-untitled work, the choir will interpret a 10th-century Armenian canto, or religious poem, with improvised counterpoint from the piano.

The pianist will perform in Vancouver on February 16.

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