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Feature Fridays Mockroot, by Tigran Hamasyan Trio

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Black and white tree without leaves in front of mountains. Text reads Mockroot

Welcome to Feature Fridays! Each week, AU Music Library staff highlight an item from our collection. While the library is closed, we will feature items that are available for streaming. This week student assistant Ryan Jacobs reviews Mockroot, by the Tigran Hamasyan Trio, available through the Naxos Jazz streaming platform with your AU credentials.

Tigran Hamasyan is an Armenian jazz pianist who draws inspiration from a myriad of different music styles, but to simply label his music as jazz is an understatement. His eclectic musical tastes began at an early age, playing melodies on the piano as early as age 3 and dreaming of being a thrash metal guitarist. He won numerous jazz awards at a young age for both piano and composition and recorded his first album at 18. Hamasyan’s unique and experimental sound blends aspects of Armenian folk, Indian classical, math rock, electronica, and prog metal.

While his 2013 album Shadow Theater featured an extended band and choral section, 2015’s Mockroot showcased a pared-down jazz trio approach. This album features Tigran on synths, keyboard and vocals, Sam Minaie on bass guitar, and Arthur Hnatek on the drums and electronics. The album begins with the gentle ballad “To Love” before heading into the melodic armenian folk-influenced “Song for Melan and Rafik” and “Kars 1”, during which the trio is introduced. In my opinion, the most brilliant aspect of Tigran Hamasyans music is its rhythm, finding a groove in many metric variations and combinations. Many tracks on this album feature odd and jagged time signatures superimposed over steady yet complicated drums, still managing to cause heads to bob. The track “Double-Faced” also showcases this concept as the main motif appears in groups of 5, but the pauses at the end of certain phrases and further analysis of the drums reveal that the meter is actually in 4. This concept of odd meters presented over 4/4 is hardly new, and is prominent in the metal world as demonstrated by bands like Meshuggah. Hamasyan’s unique blend of jazz, classical, folk, and metal influences infuse the music with atmosphere and groove like no other, sometimes referred to as “Piano Djent” or “Pianos as Leaders”, referencing a style of metal and the progressive metal band “Animals as Leaders”. The track “Entertain Me” is the most striking example of this metal-inspired riff-based approach to jazz. The final pieces I would like to highlight are “The Grid” and “Out of the Grid”. “The Grid” was the first piece by Hamasyan that I heard, and was instantly blown away. The music is relentlessly hypnotic with a complex meter that remains accessible, and “Out of the Grid” varies the motifs introduced in “The Grid” and provides a fiery climax for the album, followed by a gentle outro.

Hamasyan’s music fluctuates between clearly accessible and seemingly incomprehensible at the same time, written in such a way that provides enjoyment for all types of listeners. There is so much to be gleaned from it no matter the level of musical understanding of the listener, and the more time you spend with it the more you can find.