Tag Archives: Tigran Hamasyan

Review: Tigran – a fable

As soon as I heard a fable by Tigran I thought of the painting Night and her Train of Stars by Edward Robert Hughes. There is a wonderfully dreamy feeling to this delicate, magical, romantic solo piano album, it transports you to ancient eastern lands by starlight, the gently tinkling shimmering piano and haunting vocals will lull a child to sleep. It is romantic because it is about passion, freedom and the exotic. But there is an exile’s loss in the coda which makes it a grown-up fable where you are reminded of your own loss and sadness.

Edward Robert Hughes - Night with her Train of Stars

Tigran is an Armenian pianist of whom Brad Mehldau said “There’s something original here [of Red Hail (of Pomegranate Seeds)] that excites me and makes me feel like, “Hmm, I haven’t heard that before.” Praise indeed!

Tigran won many prestigious piano prizes as a teenager and his early steps to fame remind me of my favourite classical pianist Krystian Zimerman who won the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 1975 at the age of 19. Tigran plays with Dhafer Youssef on the latter’s album Abu Nawas Rhapsody, with Mark Guiliana on drums. He doesn’t sit easily in any musical genre. Unlike Zimerman, Tigran seems at home in all musical settings from the Wigmore Hall to rock festivals. The noisy Clore Ballroom at the London Jazz Festival was soon silenced when he put his hands on the keyboard, a striking slight figure who blew us away wth his improvisation and stage presence.

A fable consists of solo piano interspersed with some very subtle electronics, whistling and voice. Most of the compositions are by Tigran, but even those not by him such as Someday my Prince will Come sound unmistakably his. There is a fairytale feel to this album which starts with the opening track Rain Shadow where the piano has a musical box feel, the notes chime like tiny bells. Although it is a solo piano album, Tigran’s voice adds a entrancing dimension, as does the whistling on several tracks. It is as if he is lost in a forest and is whistling to keep himself company. The tunes are instantly memorable, you find yourself humming with him as you are swept away by the magic.

Longing is my favourite track. It has a songlike melody which darkens as you realise this song is about exile. You are in an enchanted forest but it is far from home. Tigran has a gentle haunting voice and Armenian is a beautiful soft-sounding language. Electronics and overdubbing of voice provide a heavenly choir which float us away from our pain.

In the final track Mother, where are you? inspired by a medieval Armenian hymn, we are very gently brought back to earth, just like the ending of a dream. It is slower than the previous tracks, wistful and spacious, the perfect way to end a fable, there is no happy ending.

A fable Tigran Hamasyan, piano and voice, 2011


BBC Radio3 Jazz Line-Up 10 Nov 2012 – being there…

Three gigs in one, could you ask for more? Jazz Line-up at the Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre offered us three very different short sets, each giving us an insight into the creative process that you don’t usually get in a live performance. The first, from Aruán Ortiz, a Cuban pianist whose quintet included Michael Janisch on bass and Greg Osby on saxophone was a fairly uncompromising upbeat set which felt very New York to me with its hard driving grooves. Just the thing to warm us up. The band keep in touch by Skype which must be an interesting way to rehearse when you are on different continents.

Then came pianist Tigran Hamasyan who divides his time between New York and Paris. His La Petite Esperance moved me greatly, I was captivated in an instant, sat forward in my seat holding my breath, I heard his home country of Armenia, gentle folk melodies, mourning for a lost way of life. It wasn’t just technique, there was such depth of feeling. I knew I had just heard a pianist who will be as great as Brad Mehldau. The busy Clore Ballroom went silent, rivetted by this slight figure hunched over the piano. Then he played an improvised piece with piano, voice, xylophone and electronics. Then What the waves brought combined piano, whistling and voice. Babies squealed in the crowd but we were transported to his native land-locked country for just a few minutes. He tried to get us to clap in the most difficult rhythm imaginable, we all failed dismally, raising my already soaring respect for drummers. He told us that he had a great respect for Armenian poetry which certainly added to the romance of La Petite Esperance.

Finally, Oddarrang from Finland, part of the Sound of Finland series. I reviewed Oddarrang’s Cathedral earlier this year here and I was really keen to see how their beautifully mixed, subtle sound with electronics would hold up in the ballroom. I need not have worried, the mix of instruments – guitars, cello, trombone, voice, drums and piano, and electronics stood up perfectly, the quiet bits silenced the crowd near the bar. We were treated to the UK premier of Self Portrait which started so quietly and then became very loud. It’s about a film called Self Portrait. Olavi explained that Finland is a quiet country, where silence is the default so it was inevitable that his music would have lovely delicate long spaces. People stayed in their seats for the 6pm set with Oddarrang, there was a real buzz of anticipation – Finland no longer seemed a gloomy country if it could create such magical sounds. We had loud sounds too – a rather frightening, menacing new track that they played in the 6pm set. There were noises like nails on a blackboard (ouch), deep rumblings and ghost-like sounds, and at one stage all the musicians appeared to be twiddling with knobs on gadgets! It bodes very well for their next album which will be released on Edition Records in August 2013.

We knew we were at a recording for radio as we had to applaud on request for sound levels. That wasn’t hard as we’d had an extremely good afternoon. After the gig I heard Kevin LeGendre tell a friend that he thought Olavi’s piano trio of ten years ago was one of the best he’d heard in Europe! And this was just my first gig of the London Jazz Festival 2012. It’s already top-notch, it can’t get better than this can it?