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Tigran Hamasyan at Le Poisson Rouge

Rachel Cantrell
Contributing Writer
rachelc [at] thejazzpost [dot] com / @thejazzpost

I went to go see Tigran Hamasyan on a whim. The process of even getting to Le Poisson Rouge on the 7th of October was somewhat of a dream coming from this Los Angeles kid -- the brief subway ride, the twelve-dollar ticket, the band of Columbia and New School college students, all mesmerized by Hamasyan, that accumulated by the end of the night. Which is why, among many other reasons, I’m still pinned to the contrast this city holds to the great amount of effort it usually took me to go see jazz in Los Angeles -- for instance, the necessity to plan often weeks in advance, the need to drive long distances on the freeway. The fact that I was finally able to see Hamasyan at such short notice after several unfulfilled attempts to do so at home is still a fascinating concept to me.

Upon my arrival at Le Poisson Rouge, this contrast was even more evident. The vast majority of the audience consisted of young adults, many of whom were college students. The past few years of attending jazz concerts in Los Angeles had left me accustomed and comfortable with being the youngest person in the room -- but, in the crowd that gathered for Hamasyan that night, I certainly wasn’t that person.

Hamasyan emerged alone after the Taylor Eigsti trio -- which included Dayna Stephens and Columbia freshman Zach Ostroff (who was most likely the reason for the disproportionate amount of Columbia students present that night) -- and immediately opened with “The Spinners,” a rolling tune highlighting his virtuosic technique on the piano. He continued with another selection from A Fable, “Mother, Where Are You?,” an expressive arrangement of the Armenian hymn with a rubato feel, emphasizing Hamasyan’s sensitivity on the piano in addition to his technical abilities from his classical training -- a more lyrical feel.

One of the highest points of Hamasyan’s performance that night occurred midway through “What the Waves Brought,” in which he took a brief break from these previously mentioned lyrical, rolling melodies to beatbox over a five-chord groove -- incredibly well-received by the audience.

Hamasyan was later joined by drummer Nate Wood and bassist Sam Minaie for “A Fable,” “Longing,” and “The Legend of the Moon,” ending with an additional untitled piece. Wood brought in an additional concept reflective of the pressing rhythmical tensions and shifting time signatures present in Kneebody’s tunes, marking the show’s progression from Hamasyan’s focus on lyrical melodies to the trio’s rhythmical experimentation and enthusiastic intensity. The trio’s seamless interplay was, perhaps, best described by what I saw one student turn and mouth to the other -- “How the hell are they doing this?”

From my perspective as one of those college students present in the audience that night, Hamasyan embodies the qualities of the modern jazz musician -- young and vivacious, his music is essentially a melting pot of a variety of influences pulled from diverse sources. The music that night at Le Poisson Rouge featured influences stretching from classical and Armenian folk traditions to metal and poetry -- unrestricted to traditional jazz. Though, granted, many of the students there that night were jazz musicians as well, Hamasyan’s ability to pull in and relate to such a great number of young jazz listeners -- a phenomenon that I’d never seen at home in Los Angeles -- gave me, at least, a bit of hope in regards to the presence of jazz in my generation.

Rachel Cantrell is a student, musician and avid jazz blogger. More of her writing can be found at her blog, The Jazz Post and you can also follow her on Twitter.