On Friday night Nino Katamadze
and her band Insight played what I believe was their first ever show in Yerevan as part of the 'Armenian Jazz 70" series of events which has been ongoing since the spring. I was thrilled that she made the trip down finally and went to the show with my girlfriend Anush, who actually treated me. I first heard her music a little over a year ago when Onnik at Oneworld Media Blog wrote something about her. The band is from Georgia and their sound is sort of a cross between rock and jazz, but I would not say fusion. Their performance at the Opera House proved that they lean towards jazz with lengthy renditions of their otherwise short tunes with a strong emphasis on improvisation, not to mention flighty spontaneity on Nino's part. Each song lasted I would say at least 10 minutes.
Nino came out on stage wearing a clumsy flared black dress with two white lines running diagonally across to the hem from the neck, vaguely Elizabethian in style--it looked as if it had collapsed or had been trampled upon. Her hair was dyed dirty blond and thinly braided but made into a bun. About 45 minutes into the show she decided to go backstage to take off her black, narrow rubber soled boots which looked excruciating even from about 40 feet above where I was perched and waddled about the stage barefoot in a penguinesque sort of way.
The band opened the show with a tune listed in my iTunes playlist as "Tu Ar Mox," an upbeat, catchy tune with a heavy bass emphasis. She did quite a bit of scatting on this tune and is rather good at it. Apart from some other songs I hadn't heard before was "I Will Come As Snow," one of her mellower songs but very nice.
"Olei," which is probably her most popular song and by far the best one I heard her sing, brought the house down. The band played a version which must have been at least 30 minutes long, the studio version of which lasts only 6 minutes and is really lovely. The tune stopped then started again at least two times, with Nino singing the chorus over and over. At one point towards the beginning of the song a boy in the audience sitting in the first row who was about six years old sang two verses while she held the microphone, leaning over the side of the stage, and then she figured the next best thing to do was to break up the audience into sections to sing harmonies she invented on the spot upon her conduction. Finally, seemingly frustrated, she jumped off stage to join the audience and activate them even more by directly engaging and motivating them. Her performance actually became comical, as if she stopped taking herself seriously as an artist which seemed bizarre to me. Nevertheless the audience certainly enjoyed the show.
Quite honestly I was expecting more from her in concert judging from the few recordings I have, a couple of them being live but mostly made in the studio. Her antics and storytelling in Russian while the songs were being played was getting on my nerves 40 minutes into the show, and gradually I became bored, something that rarely happens to me when I attend concerts. Insight sounded great and the band members apparently instinctively know how to adjust their playing accordingly to her on-stage shenanigans. And her keyboard player with a mellow, but full-bodied tenor voice occasionally sang backup and even lead vocals on one of the songs. Nevertheless I came away disappointed by her performance, perhaps because she was behaving erratically on stage as if she was restless and couldn't exactly find her place there, despite the various comforting percussive instruments which flanked her microphone stands (she had three for some reason), including bongos and a cymbal which appeared as if it had been unraveled from its center forming a long spiral. Nino is definitely eccentric, but she has a wonderful, full-spirited contralto voice and writes pretty songs.