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Hiromi: The Voice Inside

Ian Patterson By

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It's always nice to meet the actual people who make my own instruments, because you feel the love of people towards the instrument and you have more respect. I feel responsibility when I play it.
What is a voice? How much of people's voices are really their own? After all, language acquisition is derived from successful imitation. Artists of all stripes may labor for years to find their true voice and express themselves as they desire. Even the greatest artists go through a process—often painful—of imitation, refinement and, finally, emergence. The young trumpeter Miles Davis of the '40s was a pale shadow of Dizzy Gillespie, before upping anchor and heading off in his own liberating direction. In turn, many have become poor imitations of Davis. Numerous, too, are artists who destroyed themselves in pursuit of their true voice. Other artists seem to bypass these processes and pitfalls, and arrive—seemingly out of the blue—with a voice that is fresh yet mature. This was the case with Japanese piano sensation Hiromi, whose debut recording Another Mind (Telarc, 2003) announced the arrival of a dazzling new talent on the jazz scene.

Eight years later, Hiromi is an undoubted star whose busy touring schedule takes her constantly around the world like some rare migratory species. Her fourth CD, Time Control (Telarc, 2007), was thematically based, and her latest recording, Voice (Telarc, 2011), sees another thematic exploration. "This time I wanted to capture the real voices of people—the emotions, the inner voices, things people feel but don't necessarily let out," says Hiromi. "All of these things I tried to capture in these songs."

Voice marks another chapter for Hiromi, as she emerges with a new trio with bass guitar legend Anthony Jackson and the ever-versatile drummer Simon Phillips. Hiromi's trademark lightning-fast playing is of course present in pieces of tremendous finesse. In her heady improvisations, the mixture of classical piano, jazz, blues chords, funk and electro-funk is familiar, for sure. But Voice is arguably Hiromi's finest recording to date, with compositional and emotional strength to match her rare technical wizardry. Despite the similar vocabulary, Voice is also subtly different from her previous recordings: "I'm looking for new things to say whenever I make an album," Hiromi explains, and all the signs indicate that Hiromi is still blooming, still developing her own unique and instantly recognizable voice.

Of course, when Hiromi did burst into the international arena in 2003, at the age of 24, her unique voice was the product of 18 years of study and training, beginning with classical studies from age six, in her hometown of Hamamatsu. Whether it was destiny or happy coincidence, Hamamatsu is also home to the Yamaha Corporation, which provides Hiromi with her beautiful pianos. "It was very nice when I was small," Hiromi recalls. "I could go to visit the factory of Grand pianos, and I could actually meet the people who manufactured them. All the craftsmanship, I could see. It's always nice to meet the actual people who make my own instruments, because you feel the love of people towards the instrument and you have more respect. I feel responsibility when I play it. It was definitely nice to be born in the city where they have the factory."

Fast-forward to 2011, and Hiromi is clearly very pleased with her new recording, Voice, subtitled The Trio Project. For most of the previous eight years, Hiromi had worked with a rhythm section of English electric bassist Tony Grey and Slovakian drummer Martin Valihora, with the addition of guitarist Dave Fiuczynski for two albums. However, Hiromi says: "I'm trying new things. It's the new project I'm doing right now." Anthony Jackson—bass guitar innovator and 40-year veteran of thousands of sessions—was no stranger to Hiromi, having already played on several tracks on her first two CDs, Another Mind and Brain (Telarc, 2004). His super-intuitive counterpoint lines bring a new feel to the rhythm section, but for Hiromi his influence runs much deeper: "He really makes me realize that improvising is composing."

Jackson was more than just first-choice bassist on this project: "I first started writing these songs for this project with Anthony in my mind," Hiromi explains. "If I'm soloing or someone else is soloing, he always composes a beautiful counterpoint. He doesn't really solo solo, but he's always soloing the counterpoint. The counter lines that he comes up with are magnificent; they're amazing."

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