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Hiromi: Voice

Jeff Winbush By

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If there's no guitar are you playing rock n' roll? If there's no singing does it make any sense to call an album Voice? Sure it does because after all, this is a Hiromi record and, while there is no guitar within earshot, there is plenty of rocking and rolling going on.

Voice is not—repeat---not a rock album or a jazz-rock album—or fusion or any other such hybrid. It's a jazz record and the seventh Hiromi album is much like the six preceding it: High on energy and higher even still on innovation, improvisation and originality. The concept behind Voice is Hiromi's belief that the voice that never speaks can be the most powerful of all.

Rock isn't just turned up guitars and grown out hair. It's every bit as much about attitude. Or just call it swagger. Hiromi's approach to playing piano is to play with passion and vitality with a little swagger thrown in and what comes out is an album that, when it's not in your ears, is in your face, demanding rapt attention.

It rocks, because Simon Phillips plays drums not like he's part of a jazz trio, but still gigging with The Who, Judas Priest and Toto. This is not just Hiromi's album, but Phillips' as well, as he makes his presence felt on every track. In the absence of a screaming guitar, Phillips pounds and thunders away on what is best described as "lead drums."

The overall effect is pretty amazing. "Flashback" kicks off with Hiromi on the low end of her piano and, as Phillips and Jackson come in, it's off to the races, with the pianist and drummer sharing the leads while Jackson holds down the bottom. On "Desire," Hiromi and Phillips duke it out in a piano vs. drums battle that is pure fun. Phillips gets multiple opportunities to run through his repertoire, and he doesn't seem to mind one little bit. With Phillips in the drum chair, Voice features some of the toughest and most vigorous drumming on a jazz record since the prime of Billy Cobham's solo career.

Phillips was recommended to Hiromi by bassist Stanley Clarke, which figures, since Phillips played with guitarist Jeff Beck on There and Back (Epic, 1980), and Hiromi covered Beck's jazz-rock classic, "Led Boots" on Beyond Standard (Telarc, 2008). Bassist Anthony Jackson has a more traditional role, but gets his licks in as he steps in for Clarke on "Labyrinth," a composition Hiromi penned for The Stanley Clarke Band. Jackson previously appeared as a guest musician on Hiromi's Another Mind (Telarc, 2003) and Brain (Telarc, 2004), and while he doesn't dominate the proceedings as much as his band mates he doesn't blend into the wallpaper either.

Even on the solo piano piece, "Haze," Hiromi busily explores just how many preconceptions she can blow with her weapon of choice. Beethoven didn't know anything about the blues or jazz, but Hiromi does, and her finger work proves it on "Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, Pathetique," along with some subtle embellishments from Jackson and Phillips.

No vocals, no lyrics, no guitars. No problem. It's not rock n' roll but Voice still rocks.

Track Listing: Voice; Flashback; Now or Never; Temptation; Labyrinth; Desire; Haze; Delusion; Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, Pathetique.

Personnel: Hiromi: piano, keyboards; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Simon Phillips: drums.

Title: Voice | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Telarc Records

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