London Jazz Festival – Hiromi at Royal Festival Hall

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Hiromi Uehara (piano & synthesizer), Anthony Jackson (contrabass guitar) & Simon Phillips (drums)


Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 18 November, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Hiromi UeharaPhotograph: www.hiromimusic.comHow easy it would be for audience members unfamiliar with Hiromi’s music to be lulled into a false idea of what to expect as this gamine Japanese woman in a checked skirt and plimsolls, wild black hair piled on top of her head like a bearskin hat, walked into the vastness of the Royal Festival Hall, sat at the piano and started playing a lyrical introduction of porcelain delicacy, sweetened (unnecessarily) with synthesizer. They might even have wondered how such seeming gentleness was going to compete with the powerhouse rhythm section, as Anthony Jackson armed himself with his six-string electric bass and Simon Phillips raised his sticks behind a drum kit of rock-god proportions.

They wouldn’t have wondered for long, as Hiromi soon launched into her trademark prestissimo runs, thunderous ostinatos and rapid rhythmic shifts, playing as if galloping towards an ever-receding finishing line – with Jackson and Phillips roaring into the stampede. It was an exhilarating experience, the audience on the edge of its seats and Hiromi sometimes out of hers, as if the energy surging through her fingers was such that only standing would do.

The only disappointment was that much of Jackson’s lithe bass was too deep and rumbly, more felt than heard. His playing was most audible – and shone most brightly – when he was playing in a higher register, following Hiromi’s melodies with grace and precision.

The concert wasn’t all thunder and lightning. Hiromi started the second set with a gorgeously subtle solo, full of sparkling runs and rich harmonies, reminiscent at times of Debussy or Ravel – it was here that her classical background (she started piano aged five, and by fourteen was playing with the Czech Philharmonic) was most in evidence. It drew one of the loudest cheers of the night. At other times, the band strolled into funky and bluesy territory with insouciance, before surging towards that finishing line with a final number that earned the band a standing ovation.

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