Hiromi Blasts Off at Cadogan Hall


Hiromi MG 2104
It felt fitting that this gig fell on the same day as the London Marathon, because, while they’re finely crafted (if not a little formulaic) compositions, Hiromi’s winding jazz-rock suites often threatened to become aural endurance tests. That said, while it wasn’t a totally exasperating slog, the pint-sized Japanese virtuoso’s set felt like a series of demanding sprints, through which the pianist and her seasoned rhythm section rapidly passed the baton between prog-rock mania, Fats Waller-style stride grooves, euro-classical sophistication, latin flourishes and straight-up blues riffing.

Since severing ties with team Sonicbloom (bassist Tony Grey, drummer Martin Valihora and guitarist Dave Fiuczynski) and subsequently hiring old-hand sessioners Anthony Jackson (bassist) and Simon Phillips (drummer), Hiromi has scaled-up her frenetic fusion, and smoothed over its spiky edges. While her ex-associates were no slouches, the big-league duo of Jackson and Phillips has elevated her into the stadium-friendly echelons of jazz that she’s clearly had her sights set on.  

Hiromi MG 2101
At times, there was some doubt as to who the real star of the show was, as Phillips, who counts Toto, Judas Priest and the Who among his previous beneficiaries, was always on the cusp of eclipsing Hiromi’s limelight. His drum kit alone was enough to steal your attention from the leading lady, who seemed to be less animated than usual. It was as exhibitionist as anything Rush’s Neil Peart has helmed, with its fiery emerald paintwork, double bass-drum setup, extensive wrack of toms and a gleaming clutch of cymbals. Furthermore, nearly every other bar appeared to be a money-shot moment for Phillips, often over-egging Hiromi’s dazzling firework displays. No wonder she rarely plays small venues and clubs these days – they clearly find it nigh on impossible accommodating Phillips’ beastly kit! When introduced, the drummer swaggered up to stage front, bowed, and threw his arms up in true rock-veteran fashion. Ouch!

Hiromi MG 2227
Meanwhile, sandwiched between two colossal characters, Jackson, who helped launch her career in 2003, kept his head down and went about his business unobtrusively. Seated, he cooly unfurled thick carpets of low-end growl, as if from the comfort of his own living room. Amid all the keyboard and drum wizardry, he managed to squeeze in two low-key, fleeting but tastefully fingered solos.

The setlist was divided between Hiromi’s last two LPs (Voice and Move) and her yet-to-be-released 11th record, Alive. Despite all her virtuosic flair, Hiromi’s compositions, as mentioned above, were fairly formulaic: taut ostinatos sprung into full-on prog-rock spirals which dissolved into swing breakdowns before launching into uplifting, lyrical choruses, as on the Art Tatum-goes-thrash of set opener ‘Move’. Furthermore, the pianist had a slightly off-putting habit of cannibalising her past glories: ‘Alive’, for instance, sounded like a recycled version of ‘XYZ’ from 2003’s Another Mind.

Overall, this was a thumping performance, which afterwards, like reaching the finishing line of a marathon, left you feeling completely frazzled. Perhaps it’s time to bring team Sonicbloom off the bench?

– Jamie Skey
– Photos © Roger Thomas