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Tigran Drops 'Shadow Theater' on Austin Just In and Out of Time

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

The most important element that one would find of Tigran's signature style would be his unique sense of time. Compositionally, this is of course clear. The young 2006 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition winner has been wowing listeners the world over for years with his five albums -- the latest of which, Shadow Theater, just released yesterday on Sunnyside-- making well known how the Armenian rhythms he's always known have melded with so many other sounds around the world in such a purely jazz kind of way. It's this sense of time that seemingly comes to a tantalizing head in Shadow Theater and shifts even further to the fore last night on the album release show at Austin, Texas' The Belmont kicking off Tigran's US tour.

He had barely been gone half a year (he previously played at nearby Frank just five months ago). Then and now, he seemed to grumble at the molasses-like speed record labels move. Shadow Theater released that day in the United States on Sunnyside months after it had released internationally on Verve last August. He was able to tour the US in November when his The Poet EP released in the States, but he couldn't pull off rolling through Denton, Texas, and its devoted University of North Texas music department fans during that run. This tour finally has a sense of putting things right, starting off in Austin in a club two streets up this time around (though it should be said the acoustics were better back in November at Frank than they were this time around at inside The Belmont, considering the smaller speakers and the trio cloistered away to the corner of the club with a somewhat tinny sound), spending two days in Denton to teach a masterclass and perform, and moving on to a few other dates in Colorado and Ohio before moving on to the West Coast. There's context for this music in this part of the world now and, even still, surprise. Even now, Tigran hinted at a new album to release later this year, hopefully, on Nonesuch that expands even further on the electronic, dubstep, and looping he's clearly mastered by now, especially in the solo song he did in the middle of the set (and when he soundchecked in this town last year) which would typically make one think this should definitely be recorded (and thankfully, it finally wil be). It's planned for October, but if not, you know how labels go. Such is the way with Tigran-- a man who knows his sense of timing just so perfectly out of joint from the rest of us.

To start off, there aren't many people who can pull of a vest with tails but as he walked from the green room to the side to the small stage inside the Belmont, Tigran clad in a vest (with the aforementioned tails), banded collar dress shirt, and subtly impressive Converses called for a certain amount of props. His hair is longer, his beard shaggier-- he's been working, creating. His trio is rounded out by Swiss to NYC-transplant drummer Arthur Hnatek and Iranian-born bassist Sam Minaie whose shared regional backgrounds and history could explain why this trio sounds so well together (though one should note Minaie is a slight switch up in this trio from Chris Tordini, though Minaie will likely be in Tigran's impending Nonesuch release). However, one could surmise that anyone who can handle the complicated polyrhythms of "Vardavar" off EP No. 1, which they played to great fanfare, can certainly hang. And hang these guys do. One could live in the Dilla-esque pauses in these songs, mostly from the new album, as they rest in between breaks in the measure, floating weightlessly in the air like they're turning on a half-pipe.

These songs, though some have been played in the past, particularly in their last appearance in Austin, have been reworked to allow for an entirely different sort of approach live. There's more room for these songs to breathe, which makes for even more interesting time signatures when one takes into account just how difficult it is to count along while still being unable to tap one's foot while listening, even if it's damn near impossible for a layperson to find the beat. Tigran's music is remarkably complex but undeniably accessible. In the lamentations one finds in jazz about making this intellectual music have a pop appeal, Tigran's name and reputation should never be neglected in any discussion on the matter. In two rather brief stints through the US, he has proven he can pull a dedicated fanbase with laborious to obtain (in this region, at least) recorded material. If there's anything holding Tigran back, it's the rest of us catching up to him, making sure a club or a label or whoever doesn't get in the way of him making the beautiful music he just can't help but get out however he can.

Shadow Theater is available now at iTunes and the Sunnyside site.Tigran's US tour continues throughout the rest of April.
Apr 16 - UNT - Denton, TX
Apr 17 - UNT - Denton, TX
Apr 18 - Oriental Theater - Denver, CO
Apr 19 - Oberlin College - Oberlin, OH
Apr 22 - Alex Theater - Los Angeles, CA
Apr 23 - Alberta Rose Theater - Portland, OR

Apr 26 - Katowice Jazz Art Festival - Katowice, Poland
May 03 - Cheltenham Festivals - Cheltenham, United Kingdom

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