Minimalist piano and vocals, with dashes of improvisation, make this a truly distinctive release.

Label: ECM
Time: 17 tracks / 50 minutes

Armenian-American singer/ pianist Agbabian’s début release has a fresh, distinctive sound. While it fits well with the more minimalist end of ECM’s catalogue, her beautiful, clear voice and simple piano lines sound quite unlike anyone else.

And only percussion adds any sound to hers.

The album is a blend of two main elements: there are the strong clear melody lines, such as the opening track “Patience” and the spread-out series of three short pieces “Petal One”, “Petal Two” and “Full Bloom” that share the same striking, simple tune, which she sings mainly wordlessly in unison with the piano notes. The album hangs firmly on these pieces.

The rest are largely improvised. These are a mixed bunch: on some the percussion, limited in style, is mildly jarring; while at other times, the quiet tones create a rather calming atmosphere, and at its best, the effect of Agbabian’s voice and pristine piano is akin to those highly emotional moments in Dr. Who’s soundtrack.  

(And then there is the short spoken folk legend “The Water Bride” about a young bride who falls into an oven with shame and ends up becoming a fish...)

The only three tracks with sung words reveal her faith. Each one has impressionistic lyrics and mentions love; “Patience” has a second part about presence as prayer; “Mother” is about being cleansed with holy water and “Full Bloom” takes a line from Song of Solomon.

It is usual to have Armenian music without something from Komitas, and “Garun a” is a folk melody he preserved, while a stripped back traditional hymn is added to the blend.

The improvised sections may be a little random, but pieces like “Patience” and the “Petal” tracks are well worth a download, while playing this as a whole creates a tranquil mood.

Derek Walker