Event Review: Tigran Hamasyan + Nils Petter Molvaer @ Barbican Centre (London; Saturday 2nd June 2018)

Further expanding the horizons of modern jazz, Tigran Hamasyan was joined by Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and the London Vocal Octet to bring about a fusion of the past and present. It is the unpredictable nature of Tigran that keeps his listeners coming back time and time again to his concerts. The night at the Barbican was no exception – there seemed to be a raw and intimate connection between the London audience and his performance, which was humbly acknowledged at the intervals between most compositions.

The first half of the set was undertaken with Tigran performing compositions from Ancient Observer on his own with only small variations from the studio recordings. It was with the dark and frenzied performance of his self-portrait that the stylistic exploration began, shortly followed by ‘Markos and Markos’, the highlight track of his latest album. It was here that he really found his footing and began to improvise around the themes. It was a surreal moment to be so immersed in a performance that one closing of your eyes led to a timeless chase for origin.

Just when the audience was getting used to a solo set, Nils Petter Movaer was introduced to accompany Tigran for a composition named ‘Leninagone’, dedicated to the 1988 earthquake that devastated northern Armenia during his early childhood. Time was spent setting the scene with synthesisers and delicate trumpet tones, before the masterful musical storytelling explored both the darkness and the optimistic outlook families had for a quick recovery towards normality. Unfortunately, during the next year, Armenia went to war with neighbouring Azerbaijan, which resulted in a blockade affecting the day-to-day lives of millions of people.

The fusion of the vocal octet’s entrancing chamber choir harmonies and the instrumentation that supported their sound was best expressed during the encore. Tigran unfortunately forgot his phone backstage, so had to make a mad dash to the green room as the audience gave out a cacophony of chuckles and murmurs. Once back, the beginning of the piece was a phone recording of a male Armenian folk singer that came out sounding tinny, as if listening to an antique radio in a candle-lit room. With perfect synchronicity and masterful blending, the London vocal octet began to harmonise over the recording, bringing in Tigran and Nils alongside them to give a memorable rendition of a traditional Armenian folk song to round off the evening.

Tigran Hamasyan may be eight studio albums deep, but his innovatory journey forward will continue to inspire. Keep your ears to the ground and listen out for the name.