Tigran Hamasyan is, in my personal view, a genius. He’s a master in both melody and rythmn, creating pieces of music that are both interesting in terms of the direction and the scales used while quite often using patterns and timing that would be more akin to a technical metal band than a pianist. There’s a lot of music in his back catalogue that I would love a chance to hear live but this show at the Barbican is a special one, a release show for his recent record, StandArt, technically a covers album although the tracks are performed with his own trademark spin to them. Firstly, The Barbican Centre is the perfect location for such a show, the environment being more of a space to sit, enjoy the music, and take it all in. It helps that the sound in the hall is absolutely perfect, mind you.
Considering this is the album of his that I’m least familiar with, the whole set resonates with me perfectly. I’m transfixed by the ability of Tigran, the way he flies through complicated passages of interesting scales and progressions with one hand while driving the rhythm with his left. I’m blown away by the rest of the band too; Matt Brewer on double bass reinforces the rhythmic lower notes of the piano while also playing some intricate bass runs that add a lot to the mix. Damion Reid on drums is as interesting to watch as Tigran himself, the dynamic range from the kit greater than anything I’ve heard live before, the beats just incredible to listen to with so much going on that I sat with my mouth wide open at multiple times during the set, just trying to take it all in.
The highlight of the set for me is Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise – his interpretation of this track just has so many interesting elements to it and it’s played with such energy that I find it hard not to headbang along in my set at times. The scale (or scales, clashing, at some points) creates a feeling that’s both jarring and pleasing at the same time, a dark feel that’s satisfying to listen to. The band work together flawlessly throughout on this track and it ends up being a rhythmic marvel. Knowing this would be largely tracks from the covers record I wasn’t really sure whether this would be the experience I expected, seeing Tigran Hamasyan for the first time. While they may be jazz standards they were delivered with a signature Tigran Hamasyan sound that was incredible to get to hear in person. If you get the chance to see him perform with a band then I couldn’t recommend it more – one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever seen, backed by two more of the greatest musicians I’ve seen. What more can you ask for?