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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Hiromi: Brain


The second issue by a young artist whose first was acclaimed lays a big duty on its reviewer. It’s necessary to avoid misidentifying this second CD with the whole of the rest of the artist’s life, or with any idea that it’s a valid test of consistency — or use hack phrases beginning with: flash in the… / make or… / nine days’ w……). This CD didn’t need to be anything that special. Pianists commonly play quite a lot between studio dates, CDs spill out by the dozen, and it’s only been a year since the previous one, and — despite its title and blurbs, though, this set supports no claim that it will turn out among the more musically intelligent ones Hiromi ever performed or recorded.

Telarc’s blurbist was wrong to say that this young Japanese pianist’s previous set “mesmerised” listeners. Marmelised might be better, as in, I think, the Popeye cartoons: when the hero began swinging a hamsize fist and promising to perform that vigorous function against the opposition. On her first CD, this puissant pianist did such good impersonations of tidal waves that another reviewer suggested a follow-up would have to be gentler, as if Hiromi was already in need of a rest. As it happens, deeper musical intelligence took a rest in this ill-named set.

It opens with what’s mostly dialogue between an electric bass and I presume (Hiromi being the guilty party) some sort of keyboard. The track consists of noises I can’t take seriously. The blurbist tells us that Hiromi used to write for TV commercials and is now composing from the heart. This sounds more belly. If it’s meant to be funny it is, but it goes on too long, though an especial twist comes close to the end, when a sudden speeding up sounds like a motor whose speed — foot down on the throttle — has been suddenly increased. Come to think of it, there was some such effect in Popeye. I mention him in case this CD’s a dire suspension of sense of humour.

If you are not affected in the same way by the blurbist’s turn of cant — “Deep grooves follow in the slow-dirty-funk … ‘Keytalk’, wherein Hiromi’s keyboard mimics a classic Bootsy Collins bass run through a guitar talk box” — you might like more of this CD than I do. Deep is dead wrong for it. Try emotionally narrow, or shallow. I did think that the track which opens with an unimportant chorus of synthesised alto-flute was starting to become interesting, but it never went far from the surface. I forget the track’s name, and leave that occlusion as a measure of its lack of individuality. A real individuality of technique does show from time to time, but display of technique and flightofthebumblebee or mosquitoimpersonation fast finger runs rather elbow out real personal potential and its development. Perhaps the pianist’s been rehearsing too much?

Were most of these eight “new compositions” put together short on compositional foresight? Was there enough thought of what’s needed in a base for improvisation, if there’s to be creative musical development out of it — rather than just playing the same thing in a different way: under all the stagger-making technique, no better than a hack cocktail pianist’s change of key or pedalling or pace or volume? There are things no machine can do, and for rather too much of this manifestation of collossal sheer technical command Hiromi seems not to be doing what machines cannot do.

The performance I really like is “If”, which the blurbist does not mention. Reasons for not being impressed by others include a trick of dropping the volume level uncoordinated with the progression of the performance. The blurbist talks of Hiromi’s “genre dissident flair”, where disconnected cleverness would be more accurate. “The diversity of this album runs the gamut of rock, jazz and classical”? The same could be said of an evening in an old-fashioned hotel lounge, or many the uninspired hack situation: no specific creative focus — though again hardly anyone thus placed would have Hiromi’s fingers. Will I leave the last word to the blurbist: Hiromi’s “use of keyboard on this album generates moments of spaceman sounds…, while her arrangements would make Zappa and Beethoven grin and nod their head (sic!) in time, P-Funk style”?

No. And the word is No.