The Jazz.com Blog
May 25, 2009 · 0 comments
Last week, Boston-based Roanna Forman reported on Jane Monheit in this column. Now she shares her thoughts on the appearance of the much-touted Japanese keyboardist Hiromi at Sculler's. T.G.
Looking like an Asian Shirley Temple in curls and simple print dress, Hiromi told a packed room in a recent Boston performance that for her “life is a series of meetings with important people.” She was referring, among others, to Richard Evans, a Berklee instructor who was in the audience that night.
Impressed with her midterm arranging project when she studied there from 1999-2003, Evans asked Hiromi for a recording of the arrangement. When he heard it, Evans said to her, “Who is that playing the piano?” Since then other people have asked the same question—including Chick Corea, with whom Hiromi recorded the incandescent Duet, Chick and Hiromi live at two grand pianos at the Tokyo Blue Note Jazz Club in 2007.
Hiromi is a phenomenon, a child prodigy with limpid, precise technique and a speed that looks like film on fast forward in her quickest runs. She also has visceral, highly developed musicality and infectious joy onstage that makes for a great show. All the notes she plays register on her face; she’s the performance opposite of poker-faced Pat Martino, although they’re both virtuosos. Her tour-de-force solo piano arrangement of “I Got Rhythm,” which she dedicated to Richard Evans, took Gershwin’s warhorse on a tour through twentieth-century jazz piano. Art Tatum, whose work she studied at age 12, would definitely have gotten a kick out of it. The recorded version is on Hiromi’s latest release, Beyond Standard, there dedicated to Oscar Peterson, another influence and love of hers.
Yet it was clear from the band and the material that Hiromi embraces a wide range of influences. She is not a mainstream jazz musician, although there’s no question she could play that music on demand. Funk and high energy electronic jazz were the overriding musical choices of the evening. The set started with a traditional acoustic solo piano stride chorus of “Softly (As in a Morning Sunrise)” which segued into the full band arrangement in 7/4 as on Beyond Standard. The band’s sound includes some guitaristic agile electric bass work by Tony Grey (a bit on the loud side for an intimate room like Scullers), and guitar runs sounding alternately like John McLaughlin, slide, and sitar on David Fiuczynski’s custom double-necked fretted and fretless guitar. Drummer Mauricio Zottarelli communicated well with the band and had nice colors and excellent dynamics, although his bass drum seemed a bit too heavy when he played at top volume.
Hiromi switched with ease from acoustic piano to synthesizer and electric keyboards, on which she played a “Return to Forever” sort of solo on Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots,” with double-handed percussive block chords played at the speed of a roll on a conga drum.
She did swing one of the ballads with sophisticated piano voicings and a graceful double-time solo. But swing was not her band’s thing. Partly, that’s because they are young musicians whose influences are electronic. Tony Grey’s walking bass, possibly because of his amp, sounded muddy, and David Fiuczinski chose whammy effects over Gray Sargent, or even Peter Bernstein-type lines.
Hiromi is musically the band leader, not just in name. Her trades were in perfect sync with guitarist David Fiuczynski. Every note he played sunk right into her hands and ears for response and embellishment. “My Favorite Things” was one of my favorite things about the show. It started as a pretty ballad, then the stage was given to a drum/piano duet, with Zottarelli hand-drumming his skins in an entertaining call and response echoing his Brazilian percussion roots. The band then came back on with an Afro-Cuban jam and returned to the tune as a funk, similar to the arrangement on Beyond Standard.
In the encore, another danceable funk number with complex written sections, Hiromi led the crowd in rock-concert style hands-over-the head clapping, and started a series of riffs on the synthesizer using a wah-wah effect. The notes came from her gut to her mind and heart, onto her face and into her fingers, ending the evening on a heady vibe that had the audience on its feet.
This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman