One positive outcome of the changes affecting the music industry has been the increasing turn to more intimate and deeply connected live performances. And so a sold out house for Tigran Hamasyan’s solo performance at the Vancouver Academy of Music in February was to be expected. The recently remodeled venue normally holds small recitals and though it was a cold, wintry day (for west coast standards) this promised to be a big gig for several reasons. The presenter, The Armenian Cultural Association of BC, brought him to town for a culturally connected audience eager to hear his music, inflected as it is with traditional Armenian folk melodies and a deep dedication to bringing ancient and modern Armenian music (Tigran Mansurian and Komitas come to mind) to wider audiences.
Also on hand would be many from the jazz community who recognize him as one of the great new voices in jazz, particularly fans of players who are renowned solo performers such as Keith Jarrett, Brad Meldhau etc. There would also be those in the prog rock world who might recognize the muscular trio work on much of Tigran’s Mockroot to be kin to some of the best of the “Rock in Opposition” style of modern classical chamber music-influenced rock typified by the likes of Univers Zero et al.
I was there for all those reasons. But it was an ECM release, Luys i Luso featuring fresh arrangements of Armenian liturgical music and performed with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir that really got my attention. It is very much part of the recent ECM vogue of showcasing deep, melancholic music from the edges of Europe that so many labels seem to have neglected. Then came Atmospheres, a double CD recording on ECM with Eivind Aarset, Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang that was supposed to be a rather ambient outing. But Tigran’s melodies kept leaping out at me so I embarked on a search for more. That lead me to his latest solo release Ancient Observer on Nonesuch. This album is essential listening for fans of solo piano/electronics regardless of tastes. A rich, subtly shifting tapestry.
Tigran also sings. And for some jazz piano fans that can be an issue. But his voice is no Jarrett-like audience divider. It’s a beautiful instrument perfectly suited to the material and is a joy to listen to whether foregrounded or woven into the whole. His application of electronic treatments is also perfectly judged. But the one thing that is so important is how effortlessly he fuses all these things into an emotional performance with impact that avoids sentimentality or excess. There were no moments where I could think of or care what influences I might be hearing in his music. He is absolutely unique.
Thanks to Arto Tavukciyan I was able to meet Tigran and do a portrait in the chill air near the south end of the Burrard Bridge where, nearby, under the bridge, were the trappings of the displaced and homeless. Tigran let me know he was recovering from surgery and that it was possibly going to affect his voice for the concert. He may have not sung as much as he’d liked to but his voice was very much heard.
Here is an excellent and generous helping of Tigran Hamasyan in a solo setting at the Montreal Jazz Festival. My advice would be to see him in any context at all. His music will stay with you long after the last note has rung off. That said, seek out his CDs on Nonesuch and ECM.