|Outside the Blue Note New York City|
June 28, 2014
by My JHouse ROCKS-Charo Tolentino -Press Op's
Upon arriving outside the Blue Note in or around 9:00 p.m., the line was just at the end of the hardware store beside it. The Japanese presence in the audience could already be noticed once you looked at who was lined up at the door. There were Caucasians as well, but most of them were speaking in non-English languages. Close to 9:45, you could hear people talking among themselves, asking if a place like the Blue Note could accommodate the number of people lined up to see Hiromi: The Trio Project.
Tickets and reservations were checked, and when the line started to make its way in, the first thing one noticed was the sign at the door: "For tonight's show, NO PHOTOGRAPHY." Every one was looking forward to taking photos. Several smartphones were readied for taking photos of the stage and it seemed that I was not the only one at the table with a DSLR. When the lights were dimmed and the announcement made, the policy of "No recording of any kind - photo, video or audio" was repeated.
When Hiromi's name was announced, even she and her fellow musicians - Anthony Jackson from New York and Simon Phillips from London - could not make it to the stage immediately due to the very busy atmosphere of the place. All tables were filled and the wait staff was just around the place, taking and bringing orders. The trio eventually made its way to the stage, musicians took their places, and the show began with Hiromi's piano solo at the start of "Warrior." After a few seconds of silence at the end of the beginning solo, the beat started, intense enough to make the listener conjure up visions of battles that a solitary fighter went through until it went to a somewhat solemn note, bringing the imagery down to the spoils of battle surrounding the victor. The flow of music is seen not just in every piece that she played but also in the selection of songs for her set list. From "Warrior," the piece then led to "Player," which was then followed by "Dreamer."
The album featured in this live is her new one, "Alive." Most of the songs from her set list were from that album, the first three followed by "Firefly." Different themes, the absence of lyrics being insignificant as each member of the audience gains an understanding of the melody in his or her own way. When there are no lyrics, one is free to interpret the theme of the music, and that was what each one at the Blue Note did as he or she listened to the various melodies played that night.
Tune after tune followed until it was time for the last song, the title track of her new album, "Alive." By that time, the audience was already drawn straight into the lure of her music, melody that needed no lyrics, capable of holding its own. And as HIromi moved as she played the piano, so did everybody else! As she leaned forward, so did her audience. With pianist and audience moving in unison, the whole scene resembled the headbanging that usually happened at a rock concert, only this one moving at a slower pace as it went with the smoothness of the melody and the control of the tempo.
The wonderful thing about Japanese music is the way a solo is played. While here in the West, a drum solo is played by just the drummer without the other instruments playing, the Eastern style involves the soloist playing with the support of the other musicians. At some point during the encore, while you could hear a riff played repeatedly by HIromi and her bassist, Anthony Jackson, it was clear that drummer Simon Phillips was playing a solo as the beat started to build up to different variations while the riffs stayed the same. Teamwork, not one-upmanship, was evident in this portion with each one urging the other to show what e or she can do.
While Japanese rock may still have some hurdles to jump in its effort to gain a foothold in the West, Japanese jazz is strong and eagerly awaited by the multi-national and multi-ethnic audience here in the United States. A number of Japanese jazz musicians are alumni of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston which gives them the advantage of the ability to communicate with the audience in English. In addiiton to the bilingual communication, collaboration with American and other international jazz artists is also evidenced by participation in their concerts, such as that of Hiromi with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke in Belgium. She might have finished her shows for the Blue Note Jazz Festival this year, but she'll be back.
And her audience will be waiting.
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