Music: Jazz Pianist Blends Genres At SOhO


Daily Nexus, Univ. of California in Santa Barbara, CA
Nov 14 2013

Posted by Robert Johnson on November 14, 2013 at 5:00 am

On Nov. 11, Armenian-born jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan played SOhO
in Santa Barbara as part of his first major U.S. tour. Hamasyan,
commonly billed and referred to just as Tigran, was backed by bassist
Christopher Tordini, drummer Arthur Hnatek and vocalist Areni Agbabian,
who also played the synthesizer.

Tigran, who was born in Armenia in 1987 and lived there until he was
16, bases a large portion of his music off of his country’s native
folk music. He often uses musical scales and modes native to Middle
Eastern and Southeast Asian music not generally found in Western music.

Walking into SOhO, I found myself in a dim and intimate setting that
quietly whispered “jazz.” Even though the band took to the stage 15
minutes later than expected, their opening number was one of the
most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. Having never listened to
any of Tigran’s music before, I was not sure what to expect beyond
Armenian influences.

The character of Tigran’s native country was unmistakable, and yet
it was well blended with elements of jazz and pop that kept the sound
out of a single genre. As the opening number continued, it gradually
got heavier until suddenly the band transitioned into a heavy metal
groove reminiscent of bands like Meshuggah and Opeth. As the 25-minute
long tune ended, I realized that Tigran isn’t your grandfather’s jazz
pianist, but rather a musician firmly influenced by the 21st century
who blends together genres old and new to create jazz like nothing
you’ve heard before.

For the second tune of the set, Tigran invited the band’s vocalist to
the stage. Agbabian vocalized melodic lines instead of singing lyrics.

This, combined with her soprano vocal range, made her sound like a
cross between Enya, Bjork and Sigur Ros frontman and vocalist Jonsi
Birgisson. Even with Agbabian creating vocals, there still was a
definite metal feel that pervaded the atmosphere, blending with the
pop and Middle Eastern influences.

The show continued along a similar vein of jazz amalgamation, with
Tigran’s melodic lines expertly vocalized by Agbabian over metal
grooves played by Tordini and Hnatek while Tigran improvised over
the wall of sound like a true virtuoso.

After their set, the band left the stage but returned again for an
encore. Tigran took center stage and began playing a tune similar to
Indonesian gamelan music while the band played a techno groove. After
some Armenian lyrics by Tigran and Agbabian, the band went into
overdrive and finished off the night with 10 minutes of dubstep,
amounting to a rich, 15-minute long encore.

At the end of the night, the band’s one-hour 48-minute Santa Barbara
debut was a clear demonstration of jazz’s status as a cultural mixing
pot of a musical genre. As much as he is touted as an Armenian jazz
pianist, Tigran irrefutably fuses together multiple disjunctive genres
to create music that proves that jazz is not only a tradition but an
ever-fluctuating force that will continue to adapt to, and inspire,
the tastes around it.

Photo Courtesy of Tigran Hamasyan

A version of this article appeared on page 8 of the Thursday, November
14, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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