Tigran Hamasyan was Armenian by descent — he was born in 1987 in Gyumri, Armenia — but raised in Los Anegeles where he first encountered pop and jazz. Although he was first moved as a child by the rock sounds of the giants of the '60s and '70s — Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles — Hamasyan would focus his sights musically on jazz, becoming an adept piano player in the style as a youngster. Moved by the sounds of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis, Hamasyan found himself part of the festivities at the Yerevan Second International Jazz Festival in 2000. He would go on just a few years later to win a number of contests, one of which was at the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival. With his band Aratta Rebirth, he issued Red Hail in 2009. Two years later he issued A Fable (credited simply as Tigran), his debut solo date for Verve, featuring the artist on piano and vocals, and followed it with 2013's acclaimed Shadow Theater, which featured a band, strings, voices, and electronics by Jan Bang. That year he won the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music. Hamasyan issued Mockroot, an eclectic set that offered original electro-acoustic compositions and a traditional song, for Nonesuch in 2015. That same year his ECM debut, Luys i Luso, comprising Armenian sacred music from the fifth to the 20th century arranged for piano and voices, was issued. It was recorded a year earlier in the company of the Yerevan State Chamber Choir conducted by Harutyun Topikyan. He returned to electro-acoustic jazz with 2016's double-length Atmospheres on ECM, for a collaborative date with Arve Henriksen, Bang, and Eivind Aarset.
Hamasyan issued his second album for Nonesuch, An Ancient Observer, in March 2017 after returning to live in Armenia; it's a collection of new compositions written over the course of four years — two based on Armenian melodies. Some pieces were written out while others, though composed, offered ample space for improvisation. Many include wordless vocals layered into the mix. As is his trademark, musical influences proved myriad, ranging from classical Baroque dance and Armenian folk music to J-Dilla-esque hip-hop grooves adapted to piano to tracks with pedals connected to a synthesizer. He issued five additional tracks from those sessions in early 2018 as the EP For Gyumri, titled for his hometown, prefaced by the video single "Rays of Light." ~ Chris True