Despite Virtuosity, Listeners Unconvinced by Hamasyan Show

Clara Shannon

It’s not on every college campus that students can spend their Saturday night devouring vegan cookies, sipping on peppermint tea and watching a performance of an Armenian award-winning jazz-rock, avant-garde trio — but at Oberlin they can. Renowned musician and composer Tigran Hamasyan took the stage at the Cat in the Cream, greeting a completely packed audience last Saturday.

Since he began playing recitals and music festivals at the age of 13, Hamasyan has earned serious recognition for his piano skill. Aided by the huge success of his five albums, he has performed all over the world, including Montreux, Montreal, North Sea, Juan Les Pins, Marciac, the London Jazz Festivals and the Winter Festival in New York.

Since the release of his fourth album A Fable in 2011, Hamasyan has taken the new music and jazz world by storm. A Fable sold impressively and garneredextensive critical acclaim, including the French equivalent of a Grammy Award, and his work has been hailed by legends such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.

Not only has Hamasyan been recognized globally for his multiple jazz albums and compositions, he also won the prestigious 2006 Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition. In 2013, he was named the winner of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music.

Hamasyan’s style lies somewhere between pseudo-folk songs from the eastern Caucasus and head-banging metal — an intriguing and innovative combination, if a little confusing. On Saturday, though, the Armenian musician left the crowd seemingly divided. While many people in the audience bobbed their heads in appreciation, others looked at each other, confused and disappointed. Most disappointing of all was the monotonous structure of the group’s pieces.

While the songs themselves were distinguishable, every piece seemed to embody the same form and tone throughout. Nearly every song began with a soft, melodic structure that transitioned awkwardly and abruptly into a gritty and loud rock-influenced middle section that insome cases was undynamic and went on for far too long. After that interlude, the piece would suddenly switch back into a delicate folk melody before ending. Theset quickly became predictable and many in the audience lost interest.

That’s not to say that the trio’s virtuosity as individual players is in question — actually, it was off the charts. Hamasyan’s sparkling piano skill, the bassist’s hardhitting dexterity and the drummer’s impeccable artistry were all apparent, but something was missing. The use of synth was interesting at best but certainly not anything that left much of an impression. At times it was completely unnecessary.

The group was certainly innovative and interesting to watch, as it was a well-formed ensemble of three talented musicians. Their efforts fell short due to their lack of imagination regarding their song’s structures, but they still put on a solid show despite the audience’s grousing. Later that week, the trio’s music flowed through the speakers of a student’s computer in Wilder Bowl on a sunny afternoon — a testament to their appeal, which, while lost on some, was appreciated by many.