Upon hearing the name Hiromi
, it's easy to imagine this spirited and energetic pianist vigorously engaging her audience on stage. Her big beautiful smile ever present and contagious. Her creative and unique hair styles, as well as her modernly fashioned and often elegant wardrobe, add to the striking visual aspect of her performances. Hiromi plays with zeal and an abundance of unbridled fun and enthusiasm. She connects openly and honestly with her attentive listeners, and invites them to fasten their seat belts and come along for the ride. Still, even with such bold dynamics, it's her darting and daring music that enraptures. Her fourteen records as a leader continue to document that.
On the heels of her sensational solo record, Spectrum
(Telarc, 2019), Hiromi was set to embark on an extensive tour in support of said record. Covid, of course, altered those plans. Unable to leave Japan, she channeled her focus into writing. This led to the creation of the Silver Lining Suite
(make that fifteen records as a leader). A suite that chronicles the emotions and feelings brought on and dealt with during the pandemic. The suite is separated into four movements and composed for piano, two violins, viola, and cello, with a super lineup of first chair violinist Tatsuo Nishie, cellist Waturu Mukai, violist Meguna Naka and violinist Sohei Birmann. It begins with "Isolation." The quiet inner panic is realized by Hiromi's emotional solo piano, before being rounded out in an alliance of a shared state by the quintet. Musically, Hiromi flourished, as if this new-found place was a world of discovery. Darkness became the mood as they wandered into "The Unknown." Fear is conveyed through the brilliance of agitated confrontations skillfully masked as improvisation. "Drifters" refers to the uncertainty, to the questions of "Now what?" and "What will happen next?" Although a scary place to be, it took Hiromi to uncharted territory that allowed an already fertile imagination to run free. Here emotions and musical changes aligned as one. Now deeply engaged, the quintet channeled to a center and pushed forward with "Fortitude." Powerful resilience is strongly displayed with fervent playing and deft lines. Still, we are left with "Uncertainty." Although not part of the suite, it flows with Hiromi reaching out with in a tart solo for much of this piece, embracing the singular despair and loneliness of our times. Perhaps separated as the piece offers more than a glimpse of her personal inner core. At the same time it is so very relatable with respect to our shared global experience.
The extraordinary suite, plus one, makes the album worth listening to in itself. And the saga continues. Yes, Hiromi, graciously had much more to say and to play. Having dug into her soul to capture the heartfelt emotions, it was now time to tap into other resources. Four riveting pieces that like a fine wine, needed to be uncorked. "Someday" begins anew with the feel of springtime in the air. The positive vibe of a fresh start is underscored by the string section, while Hiromi delicately twists through melodic turns. The piece builds to a much needed bright expression of optimism. While "Someday" lifted spirits, the record really got jumpstarted with, well, "Jumpstart." Fully engaged, the quintet embarked on a song that moved the directional compass with grace, speed and intelligence. "11:59PM" combines reflective contemplation with the quintet and a jazz trio section more reminiscent of her trio records with Anthony Jackson
and Simon Phillips
. It is indeed a reprise from Move
(Telarc, 2012). A record of such depth and insight concludes with sheer fun. The highly melodic and fast paced "Ribera del Duero," named after Hiromi's favorite wine, is inspired by a duet with harpist Edmar Castaneda
. The tango laced piece brings together a bevy of elements into one smiling and dancing jaunt. Nishie peppers the pithy melodic gait freeing Hiromi to wander to a heavenly zenith.
Further listening may yet reveal the kitchen sink, but certainly everything else is present in yet another epic effort. From introspection into our world's plight to exhilaration, this record covered the gamut. Moreover, in addition to the upper echelon musicianship, Hiromi's always superlative compositional skills reached a new pinnacle. While many composers add strings simply to fill or enlarge, Hiromi wrote with imagination and inclusion for each instrument putting them in the center of every piece.
Isolation; The Unknown; Drifters; Fortitude; Uncertainty; Someday; Jumpstart; 11:49PM; Ribera del Duero.
Tatsuo Nishie: violin; Megan Naka: viola; Waturu Mukai: cello; Sohei Birmann: violin.