Hiromi – Alive – Telarc Tel-35307-02, 74:33 ****:
(Hiromi – piano; Anthony Jackson – contrabass guitar; Simon Phillips – drums)
Although Japan is reported to have the largest number of jazz fans per capita in the world, and has many independent jazz record labels, the number of internationally recognized jazz stars is remarkably limited. The two most recognizable names are both pianists. Firstly is Toshiko Akiyoshi who came from Japan in the ‘50s to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and developed an illustrious career as leader of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. Latterly, Hiromi a more recent Japanese transplant who also attended Berklee has built a reputation as one of the most creative and interesting pianists on the jazz scene today. With the release of Alive, she solidifies this designation.
As a pianist of intense dynamism and dazzling technique, Hiromi has created compositions that are devilishly complicated and monstrously challenging. However, she has found two cohorts in Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips who are equal to the task of maintaining the pace of her pianistic skills. ”Alive” is the title and longest track and it is filled with surprising rhythmic juxtapositions, convulsive fervency, and inquisitiveness that keeps drummer Phillips on his toes. This is followed by seven others each of which has a single word descriptive title. Such simplicity belies what lies beneath. “Wanderer” for example makes use of counterpoint in the Bach tradition but then segues into a strong 4/4 swinger with some imposing supporting contrabass guitar work from Anthony Jackson.
Hiromi strikes the keyboard with a firm but sensitive touch and runs the keys with flawless and impeccable control, whether the composition has some Latin flavour such as “Dreamer” or dives into “Player” with firm swagger and block-chording. She never loses her touch with the compositions. “Spirit” opens with a gospel/bluesy feel and as the contrabass guitar and drums come in Hiromi demonstrates that she has a soulful inclination, then Jackson takes a long solo which is particularly effective and adds depth to the composition. The final track is “Life Goes On” which has a strong backbeat within a funky frame that fits Hiromi’s creative disposition.
This is a session filled with virtuosity and copious imagination.
TrackList: Alive; Wanderer; Dreamer; Seeker; Player; Warrior; Firefly; Spirit; Life Goes On