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Miki Hirose: Scratch

Dan Bilawsky By

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Japanese trumpeter Miki Hirose joined the ranks of the relocated in 2003, when he adopted New York as his home; he's been making his presence felt ever since, working with Latin groups, big bands, genre-stretching small groups, and more. He's also logged time with risk-taking heavyweights, like organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, and two elder statesmen of the saxophone—Frank Wess and Benny Golson—but he's made his mark on his own terms, with his own music. A Day In New York (JAZZ LAB., 2010) announced his arrival as a talent to be reckoned with, and Scratch confirms his status as a rising trumpet star.

Scratch alternately smokes ("Scratch") and soothes ("Reasons"), as Hirose promotes his ideas with pen and horn in hand; in fact, Duke Ellington's immortal "In A Sentimental Mood" is the only number on the album that doesn't come from Hirose's fertile mind. The material is built on a platform of easy-going modernism, whether Latin-dusted or sedate, and the complexity in the work becomes more apparent with each listen. Hirose may not knock down walls with his music, but he's also not delivering musically reductive, lightweight fare. He has a good grasp on the idea of balancing artistic free will and accessibility and it shows at every turn.

Hirose is neither a screamer nor a run-at-the-mouth player. He says what he feels and doesn't feel the need to cram too much into a solo or push too hard. This ill-at-ease approach to music making, along with a willingness to try different things, makes Scratch appealing from start to finish. The understated-and-hip ("In Need") shares space with the fiery-and-forward ("61-17") as the program plays out. Beauty has its day on "In A Sentimental Mood," as Hirose lets his warm horn work its magic atop his more-than-capable rhythm section, and the album ends with some energy, as the feisty "Brand New Year" carries the band across the finish line.

The majority of the musicians that appear on Scratch are holdovers from A Day In New York, and it's easy to see why Hirose retained their services. Bassist Aidan O'Donnell makes his mark on the introduction to "Run & Gun" and drummer Jerome Jennings proves be a driving force and supportive presence. Pianist Toru Dodo contributes some finely textured Rhodes work early on and makes a strong impression with his soloing later, and saxophonist Xavier Perez doesn't waste any time getting down to business ("Scratch"). Conga players Mauricio Herrera, the lone newbie on the personnel list, brings some zesty percussive good tidings to "Scratch" and "61-17," which prove to be album highlights; he only appears on three numbers, yet he's still a contender for the sideman MVP title.

Scratch says a lot about Miki Hirose, yet Hirose doesn't seem obsessed with saying a lot about himself or hogging the spotlight. Confidence doesn't come off as cockiness in his work and that's refreshing.

Track Listing: Scratch; Run & Gun; Reasons; 61-17; In Need; In a Sentimental Mood; Brand New Year.

Personnel: Miki Hirose: trumpet, flugelhorn; Xavier Perez: tenor saxophone; Toru Dodo: piano, fender rhodes; Aidan O'Donnell: bass; Jerome Jennings: drums; Mauricio Herrera: congas.

Title: Scratch | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: JAZZ LAB.

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