(Barbican) July 10th 2009
Hiromi is an explosive small package. She bounced onto the Barbican stage last night in a flowery summer dress, a pair of shiny black pedal-pushers, and silver trainers. Just turned 30, she affects the insouciant, elfin demeanour of a teenager. Her piano technique is ferocious, her musicianship is a highly variegated and developed craft. But she also knows precisely how to captivate the crowd with showmanship and mile-wide smiles, just like Earl Hines used to do. Plus she has the added advantages of astonishing energy and a dancer’s physicality.
Hiromi’s joyously engaging solo set was the centre-piece of last night’s triple bill in the Barbican, part of the summer Blaze Festival, a co-promotion by the Barbican and Serious with support from Create09.
Hiromi’s first number was a happy, knowing romp through “I got Rhythm.” Another party piece was her set of intricate jazz variations on Pachelbel’s Canon. BQE- named after the Brooklyn Queens Expressway- was a barnstormer. Hiromi conveyed the sense that could have spent her life in the concert halls of Europe, blowing a gale through Balakirev’s Islamey and Ravel’s Toccata. But she has chosen instead Billy Joel’s “little give and take”… the New York state of mind. She conveys a sense of wanting to conspire with an audience and to have fun. This solo set was pure pleasure. I look forward to hearing her in different contexts where her power to communicate sparks off with other musicians.
By contrast, I found the first set from Yaron Herman’s trio somewhat monochrome. Herman has clearly been drawn irresistibly to the intense flame of Keith Jarrett. For the time being slightly too close for comfort, to judge from the exaggerated head and hip movements. Drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Simon Tallieu were calm, impressive and supportive.
The third part of the triple bill was a set by the quartet of Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma, piano great Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Philippe Aerts. It started shortly before 10pm. Which meant that sections the Friday night Barbican crowd were, understandably and unfortunately, feeling the inevitable lure of the exit. A highlight for me was Geri Allen’s bautiful, poetic “Unconditional Love.” After which, exceptionally, virtually nobody got up and left.
Postma’s playing as bandleader, and her compositions, are sometimes characterized by truncated slices of the phrase, an influence which affects the whole band’s language. For me this pervasive brevity of expression made Allen’s solo on “The Line” all the more remarkable. It started in epigrammatic mode, but then progressively joined up, built longer sentences, grew in sheer presence into bloom and completeness.
Geri Allen. Yes. My permanent reminder to get my record collection in alphabetical order. If I’m listening to Allen’s playing, the rest of the alphabet- from Gene Ammons onwards- can wait.