A Jazz Pianist Taps Armenian Folk, Metal Riffs And A Sense Of History Be it progressive metal bands like Tool and Meshuggah or a 19th-century poet who died at 21, jazz artist Tigran Hamaysan mines all kinds of influences to arrive at a signature sound.

A Jazz Pianist Taps Armenian Folk, Metal Riffs And A Sense Of History

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Musicians arrive at their signature sounds through all sorts of influences, but my next guest may have the most unusual collection yet.

TIGRAN HAMASYAN: A lot of those rhythmic ideas I take from folk music in general - Armenian folk music.


HAMASYAN: And also not only folk music, but metal music.


RATH: Like what bands?

HAMASYAN: Like Tool, Meshuggah and also like Indian classical music.


RATH: So when you listen to the music of Tigran Hamasyan, know that there's a lot going on there.


RATH: Hamasyan was born in Armenia, moved to Los Angeles and New York, then as an adult moved back to his homeland to get more in touch with his roots. His new album "Mockroot" is inspired partly by Armenian poetry. And on many songs like this one, Tigran Hamasyan reminds us that the piano is a percussion instrument.

HAMASYAN: I'm trying to push the idea that you should be sounding virtuosic and have this specific way of treating the piano. To me, I'm trying to get away from that. So I'm trying to, you know, whenever there's a really heavy, like, a metalish riff going on with the bass and the drums, I would just play one line in a certain register to accompany that riff. So it depends what kind of a sound is needed.

RATH: On the track "Entertain Me," I feel like you bring a lot of that percussion into the mix. And also, there are times it sounds almost electronic.

HAMASYAN: Yes, it does. And also like the middle section of that song where the bass and drums drop out and there's a breakdown, I muted the piano, and I over-dubbed a bunch of the same melody.


RATH: I want to talk about a couple of the songs on this album that are inspired by an Armenian poet. Tell me if I'm mispronouncing this name - Bedros Tourian.


RATH: And there are two songs here. One is called "To Love" and another one is called "To Negate." When I first heard the vocals on this, I assumed that this was going to be the poem being sung in Armenian. But these aren't words.


HAMASYAN: (Singing).

HAMASYAN: I like doing that. I like finding inspiration through poems, but not necessarily using them as lyrics to songs. You know, sometimes the music that I write doesn't need to have lyrics. It just needs vowels. But, you know, I like reading the poetry and having that in a way reflecting that world.


HAMASYAN: (Singing).

RATH: Tell us about this poet Bedros Tourian - the Armenian poet. What does he mean to you and what were you trying to reflect?

HAMASYAN: Yeah, Bedros - I mean, to me, he was like the young romantic that died, you know, when he was 21. And sort of everybody considered him super - like melancholy - super dark.

But I don't agree with that. I mean, he has poems that are, you know, on the darker side, but he's - all of his poems have light in it. You know, you end up being enlightened and full of life after reading him.

RATH: There's a track on this album - "Kars 2." There's a "Kars 1" and a "Cars 2." And this apparently is based on an Armenian folk song. It's also subtitled "Wounds Of The Centuries," which makes it impossible not to think about the Armenian genocide, which this year marks the 100th anniversary of.

HAMASYAN: "Kars" is a folk song that comes from the region of Kars. This is where both sides of my family comes from. A lot of people that live in Gyumri, which is the town where I was born, actually migrated - ended up in Gyumri after the genocide, because it's only like 30,40 kilometers away.

And so there's a lot of that culture that came from that region that ended up in Gyumri. You know, Armenia has so much culture that's condensed in a little territory. That's why I love traveling in Armenia and meeting people from these villages. That music and dances that came from there still exist and develop in Armenia.


RATH: You spent some time growing up here in Los Angeles. How did you get back to Armenia?

HAMASYAN: One of the reasons was that my grandmother was alone, so I wanted to be there with her. The second was I wanted to do projects that involved Armenian musicians from Armenia. Also, I felt spiritually that I need to connect and just be there and sort of, you know, do some studies and recharge in a way.


RATH: That's pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan. His new album is called "Mockroot." Go to nprmusic.org to get a closer listen. Tigran, thanks very much.

HAMASYAN: Thank you.


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