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Hiroe Sekine - A-me (2010)

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By Pico

Even as a small child growing up in Japan, jazz pianist Hiroe Sekine loved to pick out melodies she heard, such as the Japanese folk tunes emanating from her Mom's pedal organ. Today represents a culmination of that life long passion with the release of her debut album A-mé, which means “rain" in Japanese.

Sekine chose to present a program of both standards and her own compositions for A-mé, but the first thing that grabs ya' about A-mé is the very creative way she reharmonizes those familiar songs into something fresh and contemporary. Even if you've had your lifetime quotas for hearing these ubiquitous classics, in her hands they become something else entirely.

There's another thing Sekine does to make her debut record stand out: she surrounds herself with seasoned vets. Yellowjackets keyboardist extraordinaire Russell Ferrante produced the sessions, and longtime legends Tony Dumas (Joe Henderson, Billy Higgins, Art Pepper) and Peter Erskine (Weather Report) are among the participants in a variety of formats that range from solo piano to septet. In spite of the fusion credentials of some of these guys, this is a straight ahead jazz record start to finish. Again, it's about the arrangements and the sharp execution of them.

Gigi Grice's sturdy standard “Minority" gets a contemporary reworking, but Sekine never strays too far off of its catchy theme. That's because Sekine invented a harmonic counterpoint to the melody, which the horn arrangements stays faithful to in the head. “All The Things You Are" contains a cleverly constructed intro that drafts the odd-metered progression of Dave Brubeck's “Blue Rondo A La Turk" into a different sequence of notes. “If I Were A Bell" is adjusted both underneath and on the surface. This selection, made famous by the muted horn of Miles Davis, stays on course enough for the soloists John Diversa (trumpet) and Bob Sheppard (tenor sax) to state the lyric lines, then diverts temporarily to a new chord progression for Bob McChesney's trombone. Fresh but familiar. Sekine goes solo piano for “Everytime We Say Goodbye," and there is a good example of her interpretive skills outside of the structured environment of ensemble arrangements. She shows an appropriately light touch, letting all the notes of a chord be heard, an simple but powerful attribute that is all to rare in pianists coming up these days.

It should also be noted that Sekine can write her own songs, too. When I first listened to her “Euclidian Moon,," I had assumed that this urbane, nocturnal song was yet another imaginatively reworked standard, but this one is all hers. Shepphard stars with a moody and well-constructed solo. “A-mé," the song, is another song inspired by nature, and Sekine and her sextet, particularly drummer Chris Wabich, does a fine job evoking the gentleness of a rainshower striking the ground.

Many jazz musicians pay lip service to breathing new life into old songs, but Hiroe Sekine is actually doing it. By exploiting this strength of hers and choosing a strong supporting cast, Sekine gets her recording career off on very solid footing.

Visit her website here.


Purchase: Hiroe Sekine--A-mé

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