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Tigran at Frank: It Was Worth the Trip

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief / @i_ADH

It was worth taking the drive from Denton. Of course, this should have been clear to me from the start. Seeing pianist Tigran at Frank in Austin this past Friday, November 1, was the predication for my own purchasing of Megabus tickets from San Antonio to Austin, about an hour and twenty minute ride if the traffic is alright (the traffic was not alright). This is Tigran's first U.S. tour, a few dates in the fall in the midst of a world tour through Europe all the way through February. He was only stopping in Texas twice, Friday's show in Austin and a show on Sunday in Houston. It's a show worthy of a sojourn, and folks from all across Texas certainly did. A couple cars full of music students from the University of North Texas' College of Music made the four hour drive to Austin to catch this show. For it to be as fun as it was, especially for an artist like Tigran who is extremely talented and whose star is steadily rising, a road trip was certainly in order.

Of course, since Tigran Hamasyan is still a young artist who, like many jazz musicians, is very much a niche act who is embarking across the United States for the first time, it would make sense that he would be performing in what could generously be called small venues. As talk of this tour began, it was only natural to raise an eyebrow at where his show alongside bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Arthur Hnatek would take place-- Frank, a trendy little restaurant in downtown Austin with ornate hot dogs and a more than decent beer selection (like many places in Austin, a city that loves its beer selection and curly-cue ornateness in spades). Nevertheless, iiiiiiitttt's a hot dog spot. Not a shack, it's too well put together. Not a place, it's too well defined for that moniker; it's a special little snowflake like many other places in Austin. It can handle a show like this and talent like this, but it's most certainly a small venue reminiscent of the Atlanta's recently shuttered The Five Spot or something in the Brooklyn loft scene. Frank is a place steadily stepping into a role of being open to shows like this (the previous month's Brownout residency this past September was rather inspired) but it's still new to the game. The band rented the backline and this hot dog spot certainly did not have a piano on hand. What was here, this group had to bring it, both the equipment and the energy.

However, one could tell just from the soundcheck (and the level of discussion Tigran was having with the sound guy to make sure every jot and tittle was squared away) that this show was going to be a fun one. I don't know why I never thought to describe Tigran as raucous before. There's an elegance to his style of playing, there's a reach in his recorded work to capture the tones of his Armenian flavor. But "raucous" rarely came to mind.1 "Swagger", a word I normally hate, commodified and diluted by popular culture, is another that comes up that I didn't think I'd be attributing to the evening. The same thing goes for explosive. I guess I had to see him live to figure all this out.

Indeed, the set had an explosiveness and a rambunctiousness that was well worth the price of admission and seemed rather befitting for the small show. The tunes, mostly from Tigran's latest album Shadow Theater out now on Verve though apparently not yet in the US (you might be able to buy it on iTunes if you don't mind paying in euros), had a raw energy to them, especially since the arrangements had changed to accomodate personnel being limited to a trio for the North American stretch of the tour as opposed to a quintet. It worked, especially since the small crowd in attendance was mostly composed of the aforementioned energetic UNT music students whose youthful vigor was made for a show like this.

The whole evening had moments like this-- the moment during "Someday My Prince Will Come" when all the dudes (it's a jazz show, of course they're all dudes) move over to the side of the stage Tigran's on to watch the switch-up madness he's afflicting to the tune; the three encores because even though the attendance was small, they were dedicated; the devotion this trio had to the hang afterward even though the night was wearing on. It was a small show, but there was love in that hot dog spot. So many of those who came there made a journey to do so; it took the expression "labor of love" to a whole new level. For this group to make the trip to Austin and for those who attended the show who made a trip themselves, the night was certainly worth it.

Tigran's tour continues through the US for the next couple weeks before heading to Europe in late November. If he's heading your way, or in a moderate distance from your way, go see him.
Nov 6 - Yoshi's - San Francisco, CA
Nov 7 - Analog Cafe - Portland, OR
Nov 8 - Dizzy's - San Diego, CA
Nov 9 - Bootleg - Los Angeles, CA
Nov 11 - Soho - Santa Barbara, CA
Nov 14 - Reghattabar - Boston, MA

Nov 19 - London Jazz Festival - London, United Kingdom
Nov 28 - Gallia Théâtre - Saintes, France
Nov 30 - Aix-en-Provence - Aix-En-Provence, France
Dec 3 - Salle des Fêtes - Schitigheim, France
Dec 6 - Porgy and Bess - Vienna, Austria
Dec 7 - Théâtre Simon Signoret - Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France
Dec 11 - Victoria National Jazzscene - Oslo, Norway

Jan 31 - Auditorium de Lyon - Lyon, France
Feb 6 - Cinéma Le Parc - Liege, Belgium
Feb 7 - Auditorio Nacional - Madrid, Spain
Feb 11 - L'Avant Seine - Colombes, France
Feb 12 - Centre Culturel - Soissons, France
Feb 14 - Théâtre Lino Ventura - Nice, France
Feb 24 - JazzDock - Prague, Czech Republic
Feb 25 - Brno Piano Jazz Series - Brno, Czech Republic

1. During this past South By Southwest Music Festival at the Brainfeeder showcase, The Gaslamp Killer started his DJ set with Tigran's "What the Waves Brought" off his 2011 solo piano album, A Fable. Anyone who knows how GLK's DJ sets goes may understand how this made no sense at all and all the sense in the world considering William Bensussen's multifarious tastes. However, upon finally getting to see Tigran live and understanding moreso the energy in his music that was there all along, I understood this song selection all the more. It just took me another seven and a half months to get it. (I'd also like to note that during that set, I was hanging with the guys from BADBADNOTGOOD. I wonder if they got this song choice better than I did. On top of that, apparently the kids from UNT at this Tigran were at this Brainfeeder showcase as well [and the Nextbop Jazz for the Masses day party earlier that day] and remember this distinct moment. Shout out to them once more for having impeccably good taste.)

Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio. You should follow him on Twitter.