Album Review: SILVER LINING SUITE (Hiromi)

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by Tony Frankel on October 11, 2021


Hiromi’s Silver Lining Suite is astounding. This truly breathtaking and ferocious blend of jazz invention and classical composition is love at first listen. Highly, highly recommended by Stage and Cinema. (Click HERE for teaser video)

Ever since the 2003 release of her debut, Another MindHiromi has electrified uss with a creative energy that encompasses and eclipses the boundaries of jazz, classical and pop, taking improvisation and composition to new heights of complexity and sophistication. On her new album, Silver Lining Suite, Hiromi further exemplifies her virtuosic hybridity and emotional range, finding strength and hope amidst the turmoil of the pandemic.

2020 was a year in which dark clouds gathered early and threatened never to dispel. Silver linings were hard to come by amidst the torrent of bad news, but Hiromi was determined to find one. She found it on the stage of the Blue Note Tokyo, which she helped bring back to life after it was silenced by the pandemic. Dreaming of a quintet with piano and strings she composed Silver Lining Suite, which finds hope in the most trying of times while exemplifying the exhausting range of emotions evoked by the world’s year in quarantine.

Available now (with 2-LP release set for December 3), Silver Lining Suite pairs Hiromi’s virtuosic and emotive piano with a string quartet assembled by violinist Tatsuo Nishie, concertmaster of the New Japan Philharmonic. The results blur the lines between classical music and jazz, crafting a ferociously vibrant hybrid possessed of the fervent, rock-inspired energy and cinematic beauty that Hiromi has always instilled in her music.

Suddenly cut off from her lifeblood, music, Hiromi was stunned by the unrelenting stream of horrific events affecting lives and livelihoods in the wake of the coronavirus. The devastation wrought on the music business in particular hit close to home. She found an ideal partner in the Blue Note Tokyo, whose stage usually hosts renowned jazz artists from across the globe. Once venues started to cautiously reopen, Hiromi suggested a series of limited capacity, live-streamed concerts that she dubbed “Save Live Music,” eventually performing a remarkable 32 solo concerts over 16 days in August and September 2020.

With a second series scheduled for December and January, Hiromi didn’t want to play alone again. With her usual bandmates an ocean away and unable to travel, she puzzled over what form these concerts would take. She’d befriended Tatsuo Nishie after performing with the New Japan Philharmonic, so the idea of a piano quintet began to take shape.

Along with Nishie are violinist Sohei Birmann, violist Meguna Naka, and cellist Wataru Mukai – the latter a particularly vital choice, called upon to play pizzicato walking bass lines.

The suite begins with “Isolation,” an emotional state that everyone became intimate with during the course of the pandemic. A single voice is soon joined by others in a determined, graceful dance that sparks a flurrying solo from Hiromi, sounding as if the floodgates of her creative imagination were suddenly flung open. Dark and agitated lines scatter and converge on “The Unknown,” depicting the fear and unpredictability that marked the progress of the last year.

Those sensations left many feeling adrift, lost at sea, a notion captured beautifully on the melancholic “Drifters.” Emotions had a way of ping-ponging from one extreme to another throughout the experience, and Hiromi and the quartet regroup with the steely “Fortitude,” a testament to the resilience of the musical community that has weathered this terrible storm. “Uncertainty,” which opens with an introspective solo turn by the pianist, was a late addition to the suite. Hiromi composed the tremulous piece after her January series was postponed to March by a return to lockdown conditions in Japan, as a portrait of the moment and a gift to the audiences who patiently reconvened in the spring.

The three remaining pieces are expanded compositions from Hiromi’s “One Minute Portrait” series, in which she played virtual duos with long-distance collaborators on her Instagram page. Determination turns to hope on the resolute “Someday,” originally played with bassist Avishai Cohen, which seems to insist that an end will, eventually, arrive. The lively “Jumpstart,” initially a fiery pairing with pianist Stefano Bollani, predicts the renewal that will come with that long-anticipated moment. And the tango-inspired “Ribera del Duero,” from a duo with harpist Edmar Castaneda, is named for Hiromi’s favorite wine, something she looks forward to once again sharing with friends.

Finally, “11:49PM” is reprised from the 2012 trio album Move, inspired by a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “The night is long that never finds the day.” The line gave Hiromi hope that she would one day play in front of adoring audiences once again.

Hiromi on the web:

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