Few pauses as pianist Hiromi gets JazzFest moving

REVIEW

What: Hiromi: The Trio Project, with the Brandi Disterheft Quartet

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When: Friday

Where: Royal Theatre

Rating: 4.5 (out of five)

The seven musicians who took the Royal Theatre stage on Friday for the opening of the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival — four in the opening act, three in the headliner — have quite the collective resumé.

From associations with jazz giants (Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Ron Carter) to playing with contemporary legends (Steely Dan, Paul Simon, The Who), there is likely little these musicians hadn’t seen, heard or played before last night.

But Hiromi, the night’s star attraction, could make a challenge as the ultimate resumé booster for the entire lineup of players. She was that wild and free, that precise and exact.

The New York-based Brandi Disterheft, whose roots are in Vancouver, proved to be an interesting opening act.

Backed by a trio of modest players, she balanced her soft-spoken, almost whispery demeanour and singing with some mean bass playing.

Sadly, the overall volume of her performance matched her quiet nature. When her trumpeter, William Sperandei, ripped into a solo, her bass was immediately rendered inaudible.

Only when she delivered one of her creative solos could you actually catch the sound emanating from her upright bass, and even then you had to lean in to hear it — a strange set of circumstances coming from a bandleader.

That the instrument nearly dwarfed her frame only added to the uniqueness of her presentation; combined with Disterheft’s barely there vocal humming, which accompanied her bass playing on the instrumental numbers, the majority of her 40-minute set was something of a people-watching exercise.

Overall, the Juno Award winner proved to be a fine introductory act. But once Hiromi got rolling, Disterheft and Co. were but a fading memory.

That says more about the native of Hamamatsu, Japan, than it does anyone who entered her orbit on this night.

With her long, black hair swirled high above her head, the youthful-looking pianist (born Hiromi Uehara) took the stage with a modest bow and immediately got down to foot-stomping business with the song Move.

A fitting song title, indeed. Playing a Yamaha concert grand worth $175,000 — flown in from Toronto specifically for this performance — Hiromi rarely paused. Every note or idea was a hyperextension of itself, the result of a radical who seems like someone who would break something simply to build it back up again.

She occasionally stood while playing, adding to what was already an impressive presentation. The combination of Hiromi’s peerless piano playing, contrabassist Anthony Jackson’s exploratory rhythms and drummer Simon Phillips’s astonishing kick-drum tornadoes was beyond description. It never let up, nor did it drop in quality, even for a moment.

It was jazz, pop, avant-garde and free funk all rolled into one. Musical freedom was a top priority, but there was a steady dose of rhythm and melody as well.

Simply put, Hiromi and her bandmates were the real deal. The ideal act, in many ways, to get JazzFest off on the right foot.

The TD Victoria International Jazz Festival continues until June 29 with daily performances at various venues. For more information, go to jazzvictoria.ca.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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