Onsdag 8.november 2023
After a personal recommendation from Richard Henshall of prog metal band Haken, we went to a sold-out Cosmopolite Scene to see the Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan and listen to his diverse sound-world, featuring elements of jazz fusion, progressive music and Armenian folk. There were even a few Black Sabbath style riffs occasionally. It was his first time in Norway for six years.
It was a dark, dense, atmospheric set. It was fitting for a late Autumn evening, so soon after the clocks had moved back to make our days finish earlier. That seasonal sensation was there in the room. There was a hush, after the band came on, and low lighting that was to surround most of show. There was no conversation from the band until later on. The music was left to do the talking, expressly so as it turned out.
The pieces chosen demonstrated Hamasyan’s ability to synthesise impressionist themes and styles with the more commonplace musical strategies of polyrhythmic tension and counterpoint that characterise modern jazz. And there were songs here too, hints of tunes we know, folk melodies from his homeland or ours. But most of all, there were dynamics, shifts in rhythm and texture, the lead lines sometimes reinforced or complemented by his voice, fading in and out, as if carried away on the wind.
Much of the first part of the concert was delivered at some pace. The dynamics in the individual pieces were nicely judged, and overall, the shape of the set was controlled well, with a nice change of pace at the halfway mark with a piece led by Marc Karapetian on bass guitar, which was more obviously gentle at the start and later full of the sounds of the ocean.
Although it is Hamasyan’s band, there were many more moments where the piano was merely playing its part in delivering the music, rather than giving him a chance to come fully into the foreground. In fact, he rarely played truly solo in the concert, but when he did, it was usually from the jumping off point of a tune he had woven into a piece. He would sit, hunched over the keyboard, applying delicate touches, or stand up and hammer out staccato.
Around the half way mark, he stood up and turned to the audience “You know I don’t normally like to talk – we like the music to do the talking – but actually I do have something important to say… It’s such an honour to play where so many great musicians have played.” Then he paid tribute to Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal – “I found my own musical heritage through them.’ And now the whole programme made sense. This was his homage to Norway, to our land.
After those few, humble words, we were returned to the intensity of the earlier pieces, the darkness of the Norwegian autumn brought in from outside, the wind and early night.
The drums too had their part to play in the generation of the atmosphere on stage, with dense textures and clever use of mallets. Arthur Hnatek had a long section in the second half where the drums where the main melodic instrument on the stage. From the atmosphere we had been drawn into before, where the piano had been at times a medium of pure rhythm, this made perfect musical sense.
It had been the longest piece in the show demonstrating all the hallmarks of his writing and performance, from impressionistic lyricism to Black Sabbath style riffs.
They took a bow but they were back for more with little pause. The encore was uplifting and more obviously upbeat than the earlier material, more poppy, with Hamasyan whistling along to provide a theme. This in turn broke down into something more difficult, tense, layered, complex, filled with long runs, listing drum fills, and we had been moved back into the frantic world of the earlier music.So, the band commanded the audience’s attention for an hour and a half, with power, precision, and a fair measure of lyricism. The audience had been in the palms of his two dexterous hands throughout, clapping whenever they could, shouting out in appreciation, matching the dense music with deafening applause. They were treated to not one but two encores, and heading out into the soft rain blown on the wind, our Norwegian Autumn felt just a little more complete, elaborated and decorated, no longer something we labour under, but more of a dance. 5/6
Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker