LJF 2015: Hiromi

Hiromi's fierce display of two-handed piano virtuosity gave Barry Witherden a sense of exhilaration that carried over into the post-concert buzz

Hiromi (pictured right on the Belgrade leg of her tour) has always maintained that she often stands up to play the piano (shades of “Pearl”?) because, being slightly-built, she needs the extra pressure to play loud passages. At this concert she had the audience standing up three times to cheer and whistle her performance, and there were plenty of loud passages of applause which were rewarded with an exciting encore.

I first heard Hiromi at the 2003 Brecon Jazz Festival - I wasn’t actually there but the good old Beeb broadcast her set a little while later. Reportedly the amplification wasn’t too good at the venue, but I don’t recall the problems being evident in the broadcast. Even on my moderate-quality TV the power of her playing came across. It generally does on record as well, but hearing her live at the South Bank on 18 November was something else again.

She had brought her long-established Trio Project, with Anthony Jackson on contrabass electric guitar and Simon Phillips on drums. They were about half-way through an extensive tour which had begun a full two months earlier with several dates in San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere in the States, had taken in many venues around Europe and the middle-East, and the next day would take Hiromi to Turkey to play a solo date, yet there was not the slightest hint of staleness, ennui or going through the motions. In the first set the trio worked its way through Alive, the last CD, then, after the interval, played some plums from the rest of their catalogue, sounding fresh throughout. Despite its low register there is a kind of sharpness to Jackson’s contrabass playing, and though he was sometimes drowned out by his colleagues his lines contributed many thoughtful and attractive elements. Phillips sat amidst a large array of hittable things and, probably feeling he might as well use them all since he’d brought them along, sometimes made too much noise, but he is an impressive technician and carries the music forward with driving patterns and a reliable pulse.

Hiromi’s mentor was Chick Corea and she is an admirer of Art Tatum, but at one point it seemed like she was channelling Peterson, Jamal, Garner and Brubeck simultaneously: not copying any of them but evoking them all. She’s a genuinely two-handed pianist, and not only when hammering several grades of brick-dust out of the keyboard in thrilling passages where her hands vanished in a blur. Her left hand doesn’t just mark out the chord progressions or underline the beat: it describes contrapuntal patterns or shadows the right, sometimes seeming to suggest alternative routes. She’s not a mere show-off though: those fierce displays of virtuosity do ramp up the excitement but they also contribute to the musical development of a piece. The post-concert buzz in the auditorium and foyer, where Hiromi was swamped by the crowds eager to get signed copies of the album, preserved the sense of exhilaration evident throughout the performance.

Photo by John Watson

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