Review Summary: The formidable meeting of peace and turbulence, expressed through very unconventional means.
What kind of jazz would you expect from someone who wanted to be a thrash guitarist growing up" Well, despite the progressive rock influences Tigran Hamasyan brings to his work, I still don’t think something like Mockroot
would have been the expected result. Whatever compelled Hamasyan to choose the piano instead for the remainder of his career, I’d say it’s for the best if these results are any indication. Mockroot
is one of the most unique takes on modern jazz I’ve heard, a near-seamless blend of surgically-precise technical craft and vivid imagery. it practically washes you in its repetition, providing hypnotic meditations that are just as inspired by classical and Middle-Eastern folk as they are by their jazz/prog roots. It must be noted, too, that the instrumental setup is shockingly simple. Instead of oversaturating the production with horns and overall bombast, Mockroot
gives us a simple piano/bass/drum trio format. But really, when you hear the ingenious interplay between the musicians, you end up accepting this fact pretty quickly. The real key to getting everything you can out of this album is listening closely and observing the subtle changes in rhythm and mood. Hamasyan’s piano does lead the charge, sure, but the entire trio basically plays as one unified rhythm section as they shift through each intricate passage like disciplined chameleons. This is fleshed out even further by the odd polyrhythms and Phillip Glass-esque minimalism within the trio’s interplay, making the experience even more dense and mystifying.
What’s important, though, is that the band never fail to give us a reason
for these oddities. As far as I can tell, it’s all done to strengthen the album’s unique atmosphere, which is a fascinating mix of the spiritual and the natural. The jazz brings out a homely, earthen vibe that's given a fresh new dimension by the inspiring and somehow intangible feel of the Middle-Eastern folk. It sounds very mystical, especially in songs like “To Negate” and “Song for Melan and Rafik” which like to use traditional Armenian musical - and even vocal - stylings to drive home the presence of world music that embellishes the album. There are other songs that really bring out the progressive rock side too, such as the highly complex piano runs of “The Grid” and the amazing tempo/dynamic shifts that define the aptly-titled “Double-Faced.” The real beauty of Mockroot
is that it plays with so many sounds and styles, and yet never loses its focus when it deviates to those different genres. In fact, I’d argue that the best aspect of the record is that every song has some progressive rock, some jazz, some Middle-Eastern folk, and some classical; it’s just all in varying doses each time. So basically, different things are emphasized each time while still being consistent with the overall experience. And some parts are just flat-out gorgeous; just listen to the incredible female vocals at the climax of “The Roads That Bring Me Closer to You” for proof of that. Or there’s “The Apple Orchard in Saghmosavanq (what a title, huh"), which uses the piano in a more varied and less repetitive manner to flesh out one of the most elaborate and contemplative pieces on offer. Listen to how the different vocal octaves compete with each other over the peaceful piano lines underneath; truly breathtaking. As weird as it sounds, Tigran Hamasyan reminds me a lot of the French death metal band Gojira. He’s able to take catchy-yet-technical grooves, squeeze every bit of emotion and power out of them by an effective use of repetition, and then subtly shift out of grooves before they become stale. The difference is that he’s doing so in a jazz context. And, to be honest, that’s just awesome.