“When I play music, I realize that it really filters emotions, I called this album Voice because I believe that people’s real voices are expressed in their emotions. It’s not something that you really say. It’s more something that you have in your heart… Instrumental music is very similar. We don’t have any words or any lyrics to go with it. It’s the true voice that we don’t really put into words, but we feel it when it’s real.” – Hiromi
We certainly feel it. Hiromi’s latest album, Voice is convincing music – it has the air of authenticity, the musicians believe in what they are creating and what they have created here is a record that stands fairly unique, both in contemporary jazz and in Hiromi’s recorded output to date. You can hear the Ahmad Jamal influence fairly explicitly, while at the same time it’s definitely Hiromi’s voice here.
For her latest release fusion virtuoso pianist/keyboardist Hiromi has enlisted the talents of a couple of jazz-rock’s elder statesmen. Leaving aside her usual band, British veteran drummer Simon Phillips is in the drum stool and, of most interest to us low-enders, the great Anthony Jackson is on bass. As always, Jackson plays superbly and distinctively. It’s always great to her him in a trio format.
You get to hear a lot of Jackson here as he joins the stunningly talented Hiromi and the ever-energetic drumming of Phillips to explore nine instrumental tunes. Jackson has recorded with Hiromi before, of course, laying down a couple of tracks on her first two albums: Another Mind in 2003 and Brain in 2004. It’s clear that Hiromi is a huge fan of his bass playing.
Phillips is a legend of jazz-rock drumming of course, at his best for me on the occasions where he employs a more subtle approach: a better balance to the intensity of Hiromi’s approach. She clearly loves playing with Phillips and the two push each other to some thrilling moments. Hiromi sounds joyous throughout. There are the odd moments of odd meter bombast (Phillips sometimes sounds over-clever) but there are many moments where the trio build some intricate, ebullient excitement.
In this trio, Jackson is the one who provides the grooves. And groove he does. It is really a delight listening to his bass playing in a trio format – indeed, I have always enjoyed Jackson’s bass playing the most in a trio, whether with Michel Camilo, Steve Khan or elsewhere. His bass tones and lines add a wonderful depth to the music here and he is clearly the perfect foil to Hiromi’s florid, virtuoso playing.
“Temptation” is the highlight for me – a catchy tune with a light groove that builds slowly and develops well from a simple melodic fragment. Jackson’s laid back groove on this is simply gorgeous, Phillips is for once more restrained and Hiromi at her most lyrical and inspired with a lovely light touch on piano. There’s a telling soul influence on the music here and the album somehow melds soul-jazz, classical, odd meter jazz-rock and soul influences and comes off sounding coherent and organic.
The riotous “Now or Never”, for example, features a soul jazz influenced piano head, alternating with some oddball, squirty, funky synth lines – with Jackson’s unison with the synth a delight to hear; as is his funky two feel playing under a joyous, bluesy piano solo and his playful solo trading.
Other highlights include the joyous walking jazz release on “Flashback”, the bounding unison lines of voice and “Desire” with its reggae tinge developing into ornate patterns and spirals of piano fills with precise drumming.
It’s great to hear “Labyrinth” and compare this with the version recently released on The Stanley Clarke Band. It’s a fabulous tune and features Jackson prominently bringing the lines to life, Hiromi’s solo is exciting as notes tumble over notes and Jackson and Phillips push her into ever more intensity. At one point Phillips’ double kick drum playing seems to threaten to push the whole thins into orbit. Jackson’s solo phrases towards the end are masterful.
Some tracks I found a little bombastic at times. The prog-like opener “Voice” put me off, seeming a little over-clever and a little relentless in its odd meter bombast but another day I listened and was entranced so you never know with music like this. It exists. It doesn’t exist to fit a niche, it just exists and when the listeners in the right mood, this is certainly transportative music that can draw you in and take you somewhere if you are up for the ride.
Oh, and I adored the jazz take on Beethoven’s Pathetique! That is a must hear.