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Live Reviews

Punkt Festival 2013

By Published: September 19, 2013
Back to the music, Armenian-born/US-resident Tigran Hamasyan has, in a few short years, made a significant impression on everyone from Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
and Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
Brad Mehldau
b.1970
piano
to Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
(supervisor of the annual Thelonious Monk Competition, which Hamasyan won on 2006). Since then, the pianist has released a seres of albums, including the impressive, occasionally fusion-heavy Arrata Rebirth (Plus Loins, 2011), and far more intimate solo recording, A Fable (EmArcy), released the same year.



Hamasyan also plays on one track of Bang's Narrative from the Subtropics (Jazzland, 2013), and it was from this recording that the two began their set. The folkloric "Singers Childhood" also features Estonians Tuule Kann (vocals, kantele) and Weekend Guitar Trio's Robert Jürjendal, but their parts were sampled and provided by Bang, allowing Hamasyan to improvise freely but with tremendous focus over its repetitive theme. Playing inside the piano at times, Hamasyan emulated Kann's kantele, but then began to layer lovely chordal support, with a touch so delicate that, at times, it seemed more like breathing on the keys than touching them.

A second piece---if not written by Hamsyan, then at least instigated by him—featured a slowly emerging form and melody whistled by the pianist, while Bang's delicate but perfect live sampling choices reinforced the experimental nature of this music; at the same time, it was almost as gentle as a child's lullabye. If the beginning pieces seemed geared towards spare beauty, the set gradually began to broaden in depth and complexity, with more obvious examples of Hamasyan's virtuosity bolstered by Bang's staggered sampling and processing—all, as ever, with Bang physically movement to an internal pulse that gradually assumed shape, and became a fulcrum on which the two balanced rhythmically.

Suddenly a Middle Eastern-tinged cycle of chordal propulsion emerged in synch with Bang, the set assuming a great many shapes and colors. Hamasyan, in his one introduction, explained that this was his "first time at Punkt Jazz....no, Punkt Festival; I've been dreaming of being here since I was a kid." An exaggeration, perhaps, but the point was made as he introduced a guest, guitarist Eivind Aarset, who joined the two for their closing piece, contributing serpentine eBowed lines to the ethereal landscape. Beginning in stasis but slowly assuming form, Hamasyan's falsetto took on the melody as Aarset began layering gentle clouds of chord and color.

It's these kinds of unexpected surprises that make Punkt so exciting (but in this case, in the quietest possible way); Punkt's programming is already so strong that, when unexpected collaborations take place, Kristiansand truly becomes a place in the world where things happen that will never occur anywhere else.

It was also great to see someone so entrenched in the jazz world as Hamasyan embrace Punkt so fully; Punkt has never been a jazz festival—with acts ranging from pop to classical to, yes, some more recognizable jazz shows, but across the genre's broadest possible spectrum—but its relentless experimentalism and improvisational spirit certainly place it somewhere along the genre's broad continuum. Punkt may not need someone of Hamasyan's growing stature to endorse it, but it remains demonstrative of the open-mindedness that is essential to allowing the jazz world, perhaps more than many others, to support the kinds of possibilities Punkt engenders. Still, at the end of the day, it's really just music...and that's plenty good enough.

With Honoré and guitarist Ivar Grydeland (Huntsville
Huntsville
Huntsville

band/orchestra
, Dans les Arbres) doing the remix, it was a near-certainty that the treatment would be more outré than the main performance, and it was. It also signaled a significant shift in how the remixes were presented. In the past, remixes have been strictly about the music, with barely enough lighting to make the performers visible. This time, Honoré and Grydeland were in the doll's house, behind an opaque curtain, upon which Knudsen began washing a blue light, gradually turning yellow and, if not revealing the two remixers' precise forms, then at least some silhouette-like shapes.



While Grydeland's primary improvisational outlets can be quite extreme, he is capable of more melodic forms, as he demonstrated on his wonderful 2012 solo album, Bathymetric Modes (Hubro). Still, in his remix with Honoré, the emphasis was on deep atmospherics and purposeful densities. As rhythms began to emerge and the music began to coalesce, the lighting turned a more fiery yellow-white, in keeping with the more brooding yet somehow harsh sonic mix.


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