Born of an Armenian folklorist in Los Angeles, Areni Agbabian studied classical piano from a young age before earning her first laurels as a singer with a cool, pure, exacting contralto, primarily in groups with the Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan. Then, in 2014, she began to reveal her mysterious, softly unfurling compositions in her self-released debut, Kissy(bag). Ben Ratliff at The New York Times called it “intensely focused, moving toward some kind of hidden truth,” and compared it to a previously unimagined mixture of Annette Peacock and Judith Berkson. “You can imagine her next album on ECM,” Ratliff said.
Sure enough, that offhand prediction came true in 2019, when ECM released Agbabian’s breakout album, Bloom. It was produced by none other than ECM founder Manfred Eicher, who doesn’t waste his time on anything less than the sublime.
With pensive, searching piano, elegantly splintered lyrics, and sparse percussion, Agbabian weaves the hymns, stories, folk songs, and microtonal scales of her Armenian heritage into a spell on just this side of silence. All About Jazz celebrated the record’s “hazy and ethereal beauty” and the heft of its “desolate and wind-blown compositions,” while The Guardian praised it as a “creepy and beguiling” showcase for a voice that “floats a few inches above the earth on a higher, more rarefied plane, unsullied by the elements.”