The major characteristics of life include birth, growth, movement, awareness, adaptation and death. And ever since she emerged on the scene in 2003, Hiromi has been one of the most profound and prolific living forces in 21st century music. Mentored by the legendary Ahmad Jamal, the Japanese pianist/composer has created music that grows with every performance, moves easily beyond stylistic genres, exhibits an awareness of the entire jazz tradition and adapts to the contributions of her fellow bandmates.
So it’s only apropos that her latest recording, set for release on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group, is entitled Alive.
Her ninth CD as a leader, Alive, heralds the return of Hiromi’s Trio Project, featuring contrabass guitarist Anthony Jackson (Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Michel Camilo, The O’Jays and Chick Corea) and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, David Gilmour and Jack Bruce). This terrific triad, which DownBeat magazine proclaimed as “one of the most exciting groups working in any genre today,” first formed in 2011 and recorded their first CD, Voice, that year, followed by Move in 2013. On Alive, Phillips’ powerful, yet poetic percussion and Jackson’s flowing, glow-in-the-dark basslines beautifully buoy and support Hiromi’s ingenious and impassioned improvisations. Her evocative and expansive compositions evoke the myriad moods and mysteries of life and reveal the soulful, syncopated simpatico of her thrilling threesome.
“Alive has a double meaning for me,” Hiromi says. “I wanted to write songs that deal with things and emotions that we encounter in life. But the word Alive can also mean ‘played live.’ I’ve been performing with Simon and Anthony for four years. We’ve made three records together, and we’ve done so many live shows as a trio. We have a great time being adventurous, and I felt that we can make the record sound like a live recording in front of the audience.
That’s the great thing about having a working trio: We understand how to make each other shine. Anthony is an amazing improviser. He composes incredible counter-lines when I solo, and he always plays something to make [the music] shine even more. And Simon has an amazing tone and a beautiful sound on the drums; he’s like an orchestra. They can play anything, and they understand so many different genres of music. They have no boundaries. It’s been a great journey with this group.”
And the journey continues on Alive, featuring nine selections, all composed by Hiromi, beginning with the leadoff title track, which features a shimmering McCoy Tyner/Coltrane-like introduction that morphs into a torrid up-tempo pace. “I wanted the first track to sound like the beginning of life,” Hiromi says, “with every complicated and detailed combination of life’s creation.”
“Wanderer” features some no-nonsense, 4/4 swing, seasoned by Phillips’ zesty solo drumming, contrasted by the Latin-tinged “Dreamer” and the bouncy, nursery rhyme melody of “Seeker.” Hiromi injects a sly, Thelonious Monk “Well You Needn’t” motif in the intro of “Player,” with a fluid and formidable solo by Jackson. “It can be taken as musicians making music,” she says, “and at the same time, just playing or having fun.”
“Warrior” begins with a ballad introduction that morphs into a brisk, staccato melody that serves as an anthem for people to fight for the things they want in life. “Firefly” is a solo ballad composition; a kaleidoscope of aural colors akin to Erik Satie’s Gallic impressionism. “Spirit” – dedicated to those who have passed on – is a sparkling, gospel-grooved selection that reveals the true colors of Hiromi’s soul, with Phillips’ signifying solo. “[The song] is a prayer,” Hiromi says. “People lose loved ones and friends, but when you close your eyes, you can be with their spirit.” The album closes with the optimistic, ebullient backbeats of “Life Goes On.”
“I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated so many different kinds of music,” Hiromi says: “classical, rock, jazz and pop and so on. And that’s why my compositions are so varied.”
As evidenced by this impressive and important recording, Hiromi’s astonishing artistry is very much Alive: It breathes, grows, adapts and, more importantly, it evolves. Hiromi’s evolution has been fueled by her ever-evolving gifts as a pianist, improviser, composer, bandleader and – most of all -listener.
“My listening skills have improved,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve learned how to listen more carefully, and respond musically to what is happening in the moment. That’s what makes my trio shine as a team.”