Hiromi: The Trio Project, Live
By Benjamin Thomas
TDJ News Corps
TORONTO, June 24, 2014
There’s a child within all of us—a spirit that comes alive when we do things like, say, skipping out on work to catch a show at the jazz festival.
Pianist Hiromi Uehara, who is known to her fans as simply Hiromi, channelled that same childlike spirit Tuesday night. After stepping onto the beautiful Koerner Hall stage alongside bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Philips, she dove right into the title track from her trio’s second album, Move. Barely able to keep herself on her seat, Hiromi swayed and rocked as she mashed the piano, lost in euphoria. A calm, composed Jackson watched her every move for subtle cues, playing with warmth and grace, while Philips lay down grooves that perfectly complemented his bandmates. After weaving in and out of very complex patterns seamlessly, the trio’s five minutes of beautifully organized chaos came crashing to an end. And the child inside Hiromi returned to that very place.
Stepping away from the piano, Hiromi gave a humble introduction, drawing attention toward her bandmates and thanking the crowd. The trio then launched into “Wanderer” from its recently released album, Alive. The aptly titled song makes sharp transitions, painting a beautiful picture of the ups and downs of any journey. The trio’s performance gave ample room for Philips, who opted out of bringing a traditional, smaller jazz kit to bring along his massive rock set, fully equipped with twin bass drums, heavy cymbals (including a massive china crash that practically blocked him entirely from view), and two snares that cracked throughout the auditorium. Rather than the funky sound associated with Hiromi’s Sonicbloom side project, Philips played with a ferocity clearly influenced by his prolific history as an in-demand rock session drummer. While this often brought out the emotion in most of the songs, the kit was too loud in the mix, often drowning out both Jackson and Hiromi.
At the end of the third song, a pair of latecomers straggled into their seats. Hiromi greeted them with a cheery smile and playfully repeated the first chord of the next song until they were seated. Once this was done, she went right back into action. Covering more songs from their latest album, the trio played perfectly together and looked like they couldn’t be happier. Jackson finally got time to show off his licks, performing some call-and-response with Hiromi. This solo allowed the crowd to experience Jackson fully, as he was somewhat drowned out earlier in the performance; the solo demonstrated the true warmth in his tone and depth of his technical skills. As he staggered loosely around the bar-line, audience members wore pleasantly disgusted expressions, as if they were tasting an unexpectedly spicy meal. Jackson proved he had a groove that added a cool jazz element to the trio.
As the night progressed, the band pushed itself to its very limits, performing a variety of songs across all of its albums, and then closed the show with an enchanting solo number by Hiromi entitled “Firefly,” showcasing the versatility in her style and the subtle beauty of her compositions. While she is known to have some of the fastest hands in jazz, she plays with an entrancing elegance that brings about layers of emotion. A small microphone that she used to greet the crowd sat atop her piano. As she progressed through the set, cries of "yeah!" and "play on!" could be heard as she joyfully gazed over at her two companions. During her solos, she would also hum along to the keys she was playing, adding a brilliantly human touch to her dizzyingly fast performance.
Although there were some minor issues with the sound mixing in the hall, Hiromi: The Trio Project put on a breathtaking performance of raw energy and skill. Alive was definitely more than an album title—it was the moral of the story.