TIGRAN HAMASYAN + COLIN STETSON | Montreal International Jazz Festival

Two masters of solo creativity made the stage of the Maison Symphonique de Montréal their home last night in a double bill overflowing with tear-provoking expression.

Have you seen Colin Stetson live? Have you heard him conjure the sound of charging elephants with the valves of his bass saxophone? Evoke an aboriginal didgeridoo soundscape with a bass clarinet? The spinning of triplets into whirling clouds of atmosphere in pieces like ‘Spin Drift’ and ‘Judges’ may sound like a delicate business although Colin’s swaying on stage and stretches between pieces indicates the taxing physical dimension of his muscular performance. He gives a huge amount to the music and the audience feels it — not least through the boggling throat-singing that is mic-ed on his neck. It is hard to believe that the same set of lungs feeding the frantic, percussive bass saxophone is simultaneously issuing these ethereal melody lines.

Non-conventional vocal additions are one of the segues into the second part of this double bill. After a baroque-ish introduction to his set via sounds akin to a celeste-synth, Tigran gets to work on the piano complete with falsetto doubling of the upper register in ‘The Cave of Rebirth’. ‘Etude Numero 1’ has a classically-inspired fugue feeling to it that befits the symphonic setting while ‘Markos and Markos’ takes a simple theme that is tossed between the hands and then developed into a solo piano masterwork. Where in other parts of the set, the mic picks up largely ornamental vocal additions by Tigran, the set-closing ‘Nairian Odyssey’ sees him pull the mic close and build the sound of fluttering wings into a highly detailed beatbox layer.

Closing compliments of this review go to the festival who had the vision to put such exceptionally expressive soloists in this sophisticated space. This 2,000+ capacity symphonic hall is a large space to fill and the audience are hanging on every note. At one point Colin (announcing with a microphone) asks the audience if he actually needs it. ‘No!’ they respond — ‘God, I love symphony halls’ he replies. Well, the halls love these two performers and their music too.

Festival international de Jazz de Montréal runs from 28 June to 8 July. You can view the whole programme here.

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