on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2019 26 Okt

Tigran Hamyasan and Areni Agbabian at SF Jazz 10/25/19

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | Comments off


Saw an extraordinary concert last night with Tigran Hamayasan and Areni Agbabian. Tigran played a beautiful solo piano set comprised of pieces off several of his more recent Nonesuch recordings including things from his latest solo album For Gyumri, the village in Armenia where he grew up – then he brought vocalist Areni Agbabian to the stage. Rather than perform her music, they performed more of Tigran’s music interspersed with free pieces, one of which was built on layered synth drone loops created on the fly by Hamyasan. This impromptu piece turned out to be one of the most powerful and transcendent moments of the evening. Most of the pieces presented were meditative and slow, although the closer, a piece off one of his Nonesuch records (they all sort of blend together for me-could’ve been off Shadow Theater,) was a powerhouse, a mind- blowing epic that had Tigran playing two fisted grooves in a long odd beat cycle (15) while Areni sang high-wire instrumental lines over it with surgical precision.

Areni Agbabian possesses one of the sweetest non-operatic soprano voices around and has a very refined if understated vocal technique. The pristine purity of her voice really has to be heard live to be appreciated. While I love her performances on Tigran’s non-ECM projects, I am really enjoying her ECM album Bloom. Although she’s a capable accompanist for herself, Tigran’s inspired playing elevated her performance to an entirely different orbit. She improvised along with him several times – although she seemed a bit shy at first, her melodic sensibility was virtually infallible.

Sometimes the two sang together, voices blending effortlessly. At one point during the closing piece, Tigran took a “beatbox” solo, but that is too shallow a description for what he actually does. Besides exploring his Armenian roots, it appears Tigran has studied the Indian rhythm system known as Konecol. His polyrhymic beatboxing is so complex, his mastery of the subdivision of the beat so prodigious, that drummers on youtube are learning his solos from posted videos, playing along with them and posting videos of their own. There were so many lightening-in-a-bottle moments filled with ephemeral beauty, I lay awake late into the night still feeling the impact – a profound journey through modal worlds filled with forest magic from another time and space – yet at the same time imbued with the sort of subtle dissonance associated with composers such as Bela Bartok and (early) Stravinsky. Tigran expertly crafts a harmonic language that doesn’t eschew tonality – instead he chooses augment it with beautiful yet dark dissonance.

Sadly, the hall was only slightly more than half full, yet by the end those of us who had stayed (surprisingly, a number of people had walked out,) and surrendered to the music were treated to three encores, including a stunning arrangement of a piece by the great musicologist monk, Komitas.

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