Hiromi – Alive
Ok, I’d like to begin with an experiment. Close your eyes (no peeking now) and tell me what comes to mind when I say the words: “Japanese Jazz”?
Hmmm. Very interesting. Assuming you’re not a disgraced politician, then hopefully you conjured up an image similar to Hiromi.
At 37 this petit dynamo of a composer/pianist has single handedly created a whole Sub-Genre of music. One which is well worth a listen, even if jazz isn’t your normal thing.
It helps if you have the support of other talented musicians, and talented might be the understatement of the year when describing her two associates on this release. Simon Phillips (drums) and Anthony Jackson (bass) have a pedigree better than any winner at York races, and bring real panache to this fabulous album.
Phillips is recognized as one of the most versatile and talented drummers in the music industry. He spent 22 years behind the kit with American soft rock band ‘Toto’. He’s also worked with a veritable who’s who of the music industry, including ‘The Who’. Jackson is held in equally high regard and plays the somewhat unusual six string bass, known as a contrabass.
If I were looking for one word to describe this album it would be: Dynamic. It’s surprisingly fast paced and there are elements of rock, funk and jazz fusion at play. Hiromi is a stunning pianist. She manages to play at high speed and still gain absolute clarity from each note. During the quieter passages you can feel the depth of emotion she brings to her art, and the deft touch she has on the keyboard. Hiromi is also incredibly playful, for example a melodic track will be interrupted with a sudden thump on the keys from her fist.
The first track on the album is the title track ‘Alive’. After a dramatic intro the music opens up to showcase some great synchronized musicianship between Hiromi, Phillips and Jackson. Phillips’ cymbal work is well worth admiring, particularly when he lets rip on the reverse china crash cymbal which gives this number a progressive rock feel.
The second track ‘Wanderer’ begins with some fast paced piano notes from Hiromi before settling into a delightful rhythm that incorporates elements of both jazz and swing.
If you are a drummer, or a fan of drumming, then I’m going to mention Simon Phillips’ name in the same breath as Neil Peart (God rest his soul). The Rush drummer was noted for his ability to construct complex drum patterns and play musical rather than self-indulgent drum solos. Phillips is right up there with him. This is particularly evident on the third track ‘Dreamer’ with its intricate routines played out across a variety of cymbals and tom-tom drums.
Up next is ‘Seeker’. This has the most jazz like feel of all the tracks on the album, but even here it’s jazz with a twist. The fifth track is ‘Player’, which has a lovely shuffle feel to the bass line, and the deeper notes from Jackson’s bass underpin this tuneful number.
‘Warrior’ has an altogether more somber feel at the outset, before moving up a gear and featuring some excellent hammering down on the keys from Hiromi.
‘Firefly’ has a dreamlike feel to it, and the piano lines have a vocal like quality to them. It’s the kind of track that has you drifting away in seconds. ‘Spirit’ follows in a similar vein, before the final track ‘Life Goes On’. This is another blaze of glory kind of number, with a lovely funk feel to the melody which builds to a crescendo finish.
Pianists rarely get the recognition they deserve (with the possible exception of Elton John, Amy Lee of Evanescence and the classical Chinese pianist Lang Lang). If Hiromi were a guitarist we’d be comparing her to Eric Clapton for her deft touch, and Yngwie Malmsteen for her speed. But, somehow, comparisons of any kind seem futile when you have the originality of Hiromi.
(April 2016, edited Nov 2020)