For this recording, Tigran Hamasyan, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang came together as a quartet at the invitation of Manfred Eicher, and Atmosphères captures the newly-formed group’s evocative music as it unfolded in a highly-creative session at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo in June 2014. The entire double album was recorded and mixed in one pass, the project completed in just three days, in the tradition of many improvisational ECM recordings.
The idea for the recording was triggered by a September 2013 Deutschlandfunk radio programme which included a brief excerpt from a performance at Norway’s Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, featuring pianist Tigran Hamasyan in duo with live sampling musician Jan Bang. Eicher felt there was potential to be explored here and, after talks with the players, it was decided to bring trumpeter Arve Henriksen and guitarist Eivind Aarset into the project. The Norwegian participants had previously played in diverse configurations on ECM, of course: Jan Bang on Eivind Aarset’s Dream Logic, for instance, and Bang and Aarset on Arve Henriksen’s Cartography, but with the involvement of Tigran Hamasyan, other inspirational sources were activated.
Hamasyan, in this period, was concurrently preparing material for his album of new choral arrangements of Armenian sacred music, Luys i Luso, which was recorded three months after Atmosphères. Armenian themes from Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) are incorporated into this quartet album, too, as islands in the flow: the waves of the music slowly swell and subside around them. An experimental album of ambient allure, it can be approached at a number of levels. The listener is invited, by turns, to drift with the music, explore its sonic detail, and follow the improvisations as structural forms are revealed or new shapes created.
The band members have different responsibilities in the music. If its melodic orientation comes often from Tigran Hamasyan’s world (“Tsirani tsar”, “Garun a”, “Hoy Nazan”), Arve Henriksen picks up on the implications of the Armenian material with remarkable verve. With his uncanny ability to approximate the sound of the duduk on the trumpet, he gets inside the songs in his own way, and leads them somewhere else.
“Atmosphères” could be said to be Eivind Aarset’s particular specialization: he’s a creator of soundscapes which unfold with their own dream logic. A subtle player, too, who can almost unobtrusively establish a musical environment with sustained single notes or drones. This is happening from the first moments of “Traces I” in the present recording.
Jan Bang’s real-time sound processing (effectively a mix within the mix, as one of the music’s textural components) and his scatterings of live samples serve to thicken the plot. Because Bang is often reflecting the sounds of his co-musicians back into the ensemble for further development, his contributions are not always immediately identifiable to the listener, but they are integral to the album’s enveloping sense of mystery, its persuasive atmospheres.