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June 2014
Jazz Police
Andrea Canter -
Hiromi's Trio Project, Volume Three: Definitely "Alive" (Telarc, 2014)

Hiromi's Trio Project, Volume Three: Definitely "Alive" (Telarc, 2014)
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor
Sunday, 22 June 2014

If there is a thread running from Hiromi Uhera's very first release (Another Mind, 2003) through her latest album (Alive, 2014), it's one braided from themes of power, velocity and storytelling. But there's also been an evolution, from youthful, often unfiltered exuberance to a more mature balance of virtuosity and artistic circumspection. This new disc, the third from her Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, continues that evolution. If it doesn't break new ground for the trio, it surely solidifies their partnership as well as Hiromi's depth as composer and arranger. It also reconfirms the faith of her label (Telarc), which has released each of her albums to date, an eleven-year partnership that is increasingly rare, particularly considering Hiromi was a virtual unknown at the time of her maiden voyage. She did have some impressive mentors early on, including Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, and her artistic growth over the past decade certainly has supported their faith in her talent.

Published without Hiromi's usual self-penned notes about her compositions, Alive is perhaps self-explanatory, with compositions simply titled "Wanderer," "Dreamer," "Seeker," "Player," "Warrior," etc. --the varied emotions and phases of life. The majestic title track opens the album with thundering drums, zinging cymbals, and keyboard razzle-dazzle. (If you were not awake already, you will be within a few notes.) The music soon shifts into Hiromi's trademark bass clef vamp and treble clef fury, an epic composition with "flights of the bumblebee" phrases, as if to say that one needs to hurtle headlong into the day to keep the heart beating. Bass and drums keep the heart pumping as one imagines the power of a bullet train filled with commuters taking the express route. Imagine, Chick Corea on speed. "Wanderer" is filled with lyrical, swinging passages punctuated by a bubbling undercurrent of Jackson's electric bass and Phillip's crackling drumkit. It's a swirling track that rises and falls, speeds up and (relatively) slows down, with more of a sense of direction than the title suggests. The toms are very prominent (perhaps too much?) -- as a rock drummer collaborating with a jazz pianist, neither yielding to the other. Phillips closes with a drum solo to which Hiromi makes a quick comment before suddenly closing -- reminiscent of mentor Jamal.

"Dreamer" opens with staccato bass notes from the piano. A passage of reverie morphs into another epic-like expanse; more volume and velocity build over time with Phillips seeming to push Hiromi into vamp mode. Yet despite the forces of bass and drums, Hiromi is a full orchestra herself. A giddy solo piano and sweet, happy melody introduce "Seeker," shifting into a southern blues as the full trio engages, Jarrettish with an assertive pulse. If you have seen Hiromi live, this is where you imagine her slyly winking at the audience as she seamlessly shifts from sweet to sassy to virtuosic, this time swaying on your feet or in your seat as the music moves quickly from jazz club to blues bar, from Jarrett to Doctor John and back. Drum and bass establish a heavy rhythm on "Player," which becomes more interesting and more frenetic about half-way through, as if Hiromi, chased by bass and drums, is a run-away train.

"Warrior" is introduced by a classically informed piano solo that becomes a furious encounter a la Bad Plus (with more notes), while Hiromi's elusive and delicate piano solo introducing "Firefly" seems to beg for lyrics; there's a hint of an Irish folksong in this gentle, often harp-like composition. That swaying bayou blues feel returns with "Spirit," Phillips crashing punctuations keep you from drifting into a nap. Ray Charles might be watching over this track that features Jackson's deep bowing in the background and a delightful solo interlude. The final track, "Life Goes On," is a joyful romp that seems to salute all of Hiromi's mentors --Corea, Peterson, Jamal--as well as life itself, with Phillips and Jackson providing a funky groove for the virtuosic, can't-help-myself, uninhibited pianist. If Alive gives us essentially more of the same that marked the previous Trio Project outings (Voice and Move), there's something to be said for consistency at this level.

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