Hiromi: The Voice Inside
Bringing Simon Phillips on board to fill the drum chair was also something very natural: "The more I wrote the songs, the clearer the drums' sound got, and I thought about Simon. I asked Anthony what he thought, and he said it was a great choice, and he really encouraged me to contact him. So I contacted Simon, and he was very happy to do it." Phillips has rarely sounded more animated or versatile on record, no doubt due to the freedom given him by Hiromi. Giving freedom to her co-musicians is another essential component of Hiromi's music: "I always do with the musicians I play with. I really want to pull the best out of the musicians I play with."
Although Hiromi is often labeled a fusion musician, in fact only a small proportion of all her music features electric keyboards, including just two tracks on Voice. The funky "Now or Never" is more of an acoustic piano workout, and "Desire," which is colored by grooving synthesizer, features an outstanding, extended piano improvisation. Composer/keyboard maestro Joe Zawinul is the first name Hiromi mentions when talking of her electric keyboard influences, though she is quick to emphasize that there are too many influences to name.
One of the tracks on Voice, "Flashback," sees Hiromi briefly flirt with a Miles Davis melody, which brings up the question of her personal voice and its relationship with influences. Is Hiromi aware of other people's voices coming through her as she plays? "No, never," she states. "I think when you play thinking about, 'Okay, let's play a little bit of this,' these aren't your real words. We all do borrow words from people; when a baby starts talking, it imitates what its parents say and starts to talk like its parents. Then when you get to have some friends, you imitate what your friends are saying, and you develop your own words in choosing what you like, and you make your own style. You have to digest it in yourself so you can speak with your own words. I am influenced by many different people and many different musicians, and I never know what comes from who. It's never like that."
Classical music has obviously left as large an imprint on Hiromi's music as that of any other type of music. This is especially apparent in the serene introduction to "Voice," the opening track on the CD, but it permeates all her improvisations. Her love of classical music has previously led Hiromi to interpret compositions by Claude Debussy and Johann Pachelbel, and on her latest CD she brings a delightful, bluesy swing to Ludwig Van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, "Pathetique."
Hiromi's classical-music upbringing raises the question as to whether she might like to pursue a parallel career as a classical recording artist, in the way Keith Jarrett has, but Hiromi's answer is perhaps a little surprising: "No," she says without hesitation. "That's a sound I respect and really love and I don't think I am capable [laughs]. I understand that you need to devote your life to classical music. All the classical pianists that I love give all their life to play classical music. I'm interested in writing music and in playing with a band. I love playing improvisational music. That's my focus, and that's what I want to keep developing. I need another life to do classical music [laughs]."
That said, Hiromi has long harbored ambitions to write a piano concerto and perform with a symphony orchestra. This dream was realized at the end of 2010, when Hiromi performed her own arrangements for piano with a symphony orchestra in Japan. The performance was not recorded, but Hiromi has high hopes to do more of the same: "I'd love to do more with as many orchestras as I can," she enthuses.
In fact, the last few years have seen Hiromi branching out in a number of stimulating and diverse contexts. There was the piano duet with pianist/keyboard player/composer Chick Corea, simply titled Duet (Concord Records, 2009), which captured the best of three electrifying performances in Japan at the end of 2007. "It was just so much fun and inspirational," recalls Hiromi. "I enjoyed every minute of it. I felt so excited to play with Chick. Just listening to him as one of the audience is fun, but when I'm allowed to say something back musically then that's more fun [laughs].