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March 2013
Jazz Police
Andrea Canter -
A Suite Escape: Hiromi's Latest "Move"

A Suite Escape: Hiromi's Latest "Move" (2013, Telarc)
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor
Saturday, 02 March 2013

"Reality." "Fantasy." "In-Between." Not only are these the titles of the components of "Suite Escapism" on Hiromi's new release, Move, these terms pretty well sum the wild journey of the recording... and generally the nature of the music the pianist has generated over the past decade. Move is Hiromi's second recording with her "Trio Project" cohorts, electric bassist Anthony Jackson and powerhouse drummer Simon Phillips, and a worthy follow-up to 2011's Voice.

Hiromi describes Move as "a soundtrack for a day," a sequence of sonic representations of life from the sounding of the alarm clock ("Move") to day's end ("11:49 pm"), with various adventures and emotions in-between, from work ("Endeavor") to unexpected rain shower ("Rainmaker") to party ("Margarita!"), as well as "Suite Escapism." From dawn til dusk, the trio mixes fire and rain, motion and emotion, a rollercoaster ride we've come to expect from a pianist who can dazzle like Tatum and sing like Jarrett, often within the span of a few notes. And on Move, all notes belong to Hiromi.

The title track opens the "day" with a repeating set of chords that indeed arouse like an alarm clock. "Get ready for your brand new day, a new page in your life," says the composer. Those familiar with Hiromi will recognize her branding here - upbeat, turbo-charged vamping choruses that surely awaken the ears and circulation, like a locomotive gathering momentum as it hurtles forward. I had the opportunity to see Simon Phillips in action when the trio performed last spring at the Dakota - or more accurately, to see Phillips buried in a double row of drums and cymbals. Here, it's easy to imagine him surrounded by this arsenal, a giant swirl of nonstop sound and flying sticks and mallets.

"Morning resets everything and gives you the courage to start something new," say Hiromi of the following "Brand New Day." Her elegant, articulate piano leads into a lyrical, more gentle, yet still-energetic flow - those fingers never really rest; Jackson maintains a steady, laid-back undercurrent, soloing with guitar-like songfulness, while Phillips rises and recedes. The three-way conversation promises a day of constructive exploring.

Adding her gurgling, cartoonish figures on electric keyboard, Hiromi leads the trio into the funky "Endeavor," asking "Do people work to live or live to work?" It's a yin and yang, back and forth discussion of electronic and acoustic effects with exquisite melodic passages and high-speed chases punctuated throughout by Phillips' peppery percussion. Like an unexpected shower, "Rainmaker" begins gently and progresses to a downpour, conjuring a dark romantic symphony. The storm seems to subside, yet the thunder of dissonant chords is always close at hand, and another downpour threatens. It's a delightful workout for everyone, ending with Phillips dropping a flurry of muted bombs.

"Suite Escapism" starts with "Reality" ("face it, fight it, accept it," says Hiromi). For the trio, reality is frenzied optimism, a direct descendent of the preceding tracks, mixing fast-paced but well-articulated energy with more footloose swirl. Reality hits hard. "Fantasy" follows, Jackson emulating guitar with lines that seem bowed in their legato flow; Hiromi treads a gorgeous thin line between country gospel and Ravel, "dreaming, floating... if only for a second," she notes. "In Between" appropriately seems to be the musical average, "because you dream, you can live in reality. Going back and forth, and in between," says Hiromi. Indeed, much of this album, and her other works, mix hard-hitting reality with more dreamy fantasy, but it's all tethered together by an underlying symphonic classicism.

Party time - "Margarita!" pulls out the funk, a tart concoction rimmed with salt and a samba sway. Once again Hiromi simulates a star fleet commander on electric keyboard, while Jackson's bass solo ranks with the best of funk guitar masters. The party isn't all wild dancing, but even the more "sedate" interludes have an underlying edge. With all that motion and commotion, one might expect the closing track, "11:49 pm," to collapse as a lullabye. The dark and majestic intro suggests approaching sleep following a hectic day...yet all is not so peaceful at bedtime, and the trio unwinds only to a relative degree. Phillips is particularly restless, giving the toms a thorough workout as Hiromi rests on a two-chord progression before diving (again) into a sweeping, then retreating, orchestral theme; maniacal sonic waves crash across the final minutes. Quickly, at last, it's lights out.

The experience of listening to Move follows the soundtrack, and by the end of "11:49 pm" it does indeed seem to be time to call it a day. It's exuberating, joyful, exhausting, and ultimately worth repeating. But tomorrow I might prefer a heavier dose of fantasy - more "suite escapism."

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