Tigran Hamasyan – The Call Within

[Nonesuch Records, 2020]

Intro: Kostas Barbas

A few months ago Tigran Hamasyan gave us a first idea of his new album with the impressive video for Levitation 21. Now, The Call Within has been released. The child prodigy from Armenia has now reached the age of 33, and has already built a respectable discography. He started testing his strengths – very successfully – in a more traditional jazz style, with World Passion (2006) and New Era (2008). Red Hail (2009), an album with strong avant-garde and progressive rock elements, was the beginning of his artistic autonomy. With A Fable (2011) and Shadow Theater (2013) that followed, he explored the folk music tradition. Mockroot (2015) was essentially a union of his musical worlds, on a complex rhythmic context, while in Luys i Luso he chose calmer music paths. An Ancient Observer (2017) was a typical example of a work of art where Western culture stands in awe of historical memory and musical tradition and contained some of his career’s highlights. Until his return this year, he also wrote the soundtrack for the movie They Say Nothing Stays the Same (2019). In The Call Within, Hamasyan’s two main companions are Evan Marien on bass and Arthur Hnatek on drums. Areni Agbabian and Artyom Manukyan participate in the track Our Film and the great Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders) plays guitar in the track Vortex.


 

Self-limited genius

Part of the concept behind The Call Within is based on Hamasyan’s great interest in maps of different regions and different eras. On another level, after listening to the album one could say that it functions as a mapping of this great Armenian pianist’s mind and a classification of his musical and non-musical obsessions. It’s as if the artist seeked the answers to the mystery of Creation through the creation of music, considering art as the bridge between the material and the immaterial world. The Call Within draws inspiration – apart from maps – from ancient Armenian stories and myths, ancient Armenian designs, astrology and geometry.

In this world created by Hamasyan, there is a very clear view of how his music sounds, a view that was crystallized with the release of Mockroot, probably the most important record for the development of his career. The instrumentation remains once again strict: bass, drums and the sound of the piano monopolize the final result. And somewhere here we have to say that Hamasyan is already a piano legend and one of the greatest talents in recent years. His technique is unreal, but what really makes him unique is his unparalleled rhythmic playing. In The Call Within the rhythmic patterns are once again impressive and of course very complex. Armenian melodies and this folk air is another trademark of Hamasyan and clearly one of his strong elements. However, the three main characteristics that make him stand out (amazing piano playing – excellent rhythm – deep folk melodies), are the ones that seem to limit him so far. The religious obsession with this particular way of orchestration definitely tires the listener at times. Even in the awesome Vortex with Tosin Abasi on guitar, an explosion never comes. While even since Red Hail Hamasyan has embraced modern progressive rock and metal patterns, he never really embodied them orchestration-wise. The same goes for the rhythmic choices that, as impressive and admirable as they are, in some places exceed the limits of tolerance and make it partially difficult to follow. Finally, the melodies, although certainly authentic and responsible for the beautiful mystical atmosphere, they seem to be repeated in Hamasyan’s extensive discography.

If we just listen to The Call Within, then we are confronted with an amazing album, which after each consecutive listens and after the initial difficulty, it finally embraces the listener. If we then try to compare it with the rest of his albums, then we will probably put it on top of all his previous records. Hamasyan managed to use the materials of his previous releases to create his best album to date, an album that contains some of his best compositions, most notably the amazing Levitation 21. The Call Within gathers all his obsessions and compulsions and combines them with his musical genius. At the moment, Hamasyan is on his limits artistically and choosing a kind of renewal seems like a one-way street.

8 / 10

Kostas Barbas

 

2nd opinion

 

Hamasyan’s new album is a return to the spirit of Red Hail (2009) and Mockroot (2015), in other words to the more avant-prog creative side of the supertalented Armenian pianist. The well-known jazz fusion and Armenian folk ingredients are ever present here as well, as is the introspective, complex, mysterious, energetic character, i.e. Hamasyan’s signature, with emphasis once again on the rhythm section, where Evan Marien (bass) and Arthur Hnatek (drums) are impressive to say the least. In this context, the new element added for the first time in Hamasyan’s music is djent, most typically in Vortex, where Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders) fits perfectly with Hamasyan’s rhythmic style.

Musically, The Call Within is undoubtedly one of the most impressive albums of the year. However, the obsession with successive rhythm changes may tire the listener. Even such an excellent set of compositions does not “breathe” enough and after each listening experience, the feeling of impression clashes with a suspicion of repetition (which is partly true stylistically but not literally).

The Call Within is probably the best album in Tigran Hamasyan’s career so far and leaves an expectation of trying different orchestrations in the future, potentially towards more rock or even metal patterns.

Favorite tracks: Levitation 21, Our Film, The Dream Voyager, Vortex, New Maps.

8.5 / 10

Dimitris Kaltsas