Tigran (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Tigran (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Jazz Arena, Cheltenham Jazz Festival

The Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan might first have come to wider jazz attention primarily as an acoustic pianist with a Jarrettish air and a way of combining the scales and melodies of his country’s folk tradition with jazz improvisation, but he has always had wider interests.

As was clear from his trio’s performance at Cheltenham, these interests include progressive rock, the big phat beats of club music and the slipping rhythms of hip-hop. Added to the acoustic piano are Fender Rhodes, lots of sound-altering pedals and looping electronics so that the Tigran sound is very rarely acoustic piano on its own. He also sings in a high, pure voice and is a an extraordinarily powerful and accurate whistler.

Armenian folk tunes folded in and out, sometimes articulated in crystal clear treble piano parts with an underwash of circling tinklings and shimmerings, sometimes sung, sometimes they came crackling through chrome-toned Rhodes and pedals, and sometimes they were shared with electric bassist Sam Minaie. One minute all would have the light, airy delicacy of a Japanese painting as Tigran single-fingered a pretty melody; the next that same melody would be transformed into a gut-renching anthem over a pounding head-banging beat, with drummer Arthur Hnatek and bassist Minaie tight as anything.

The intensity and commitment Tigran and his band show in performance adds to the effective communication. Personally, I found the contrast in these gentle and heavy moods became a little predictable after a while, the overall scope of the music a little shallow, although perhaps my ears are not as attuned to hearing the subtleties in a big beat as they are in enjoying the kind of magic Tigran can weave on his own. He is certainly becoming a master of the manipulated piano producing many beautiful and original sounds.

Categories: Live review

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