CD review: Tigran Hamasyan’s Luys i Luso

First published in the Guardian on 8 October, 2015

Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan can be a hectic stage act — think high-voltage fusions of hip-hop, pop and buzzy, polished jazz — but his debut ECM album strips right back to his most lyrical folk intuition. Luys i Luso is a meditation around the sacred music of his home country on the centenary of the Armenian genocide. The material ranges from fifth century sharakans to newer hymns arranged for piano and voices. At its heart is the beautifully rough-grained sound of Armenia’s leading choir conducted by Harutyun Topikyan, with its gentle, unwavering sopranos and spine-tingling low bass drones unfolding in intense slow builds and thick chordal textures. Around them Hamasyan improvises contemplative, spacious and only occasionally nervy commentary. Hints of American post-minimalism are there and he lost me with one or two overblown climaxes, but mostly the language is sensitive — best when he does the least and lets the voices speak for themselves.