Hiromi turned it up to eleven from the off. Opener 'Spark' featured the head banging piano pyro-technics that have seen the Japanese virtuoso become one of the biggest draws in jazz. Upon entering the Royal Festival Hall, concert goers were confronted by drummer Simon Phillips’ kit; a jungle of tom-toms and cymbals. This sight set a distinctly proggy tone, which was heightened by the spacey keyboard that opened the set; recalling the excesses of Hiromi’s mentor figure Chick Corea in his galactically curious 1970s fusion band Return to Forever.
The first two numbers were rhythmic workouts, shifting through more metres than Mo Farah, and featuring piano solos longer than the queue for Hiromi’s autograph after the gig. Despite kitchen-sink levels of subtlety, Hiromi’s jazz-prog stylings are seductive. It is hard not to groove along to the boss-fight basslines conducted by her converse stomps, delighting in the dazzling complexity of it all.
It was not until the opening of the second set that Hiromi proved she could be deft as well as devastating. She returned to the stage alone, and played a revelatory solo piano piece entitled ‘Place to Be’. This low key cadenza waltzed through Gershwin-like lushness before coalescing around an inventive groove worthy of Jarrett. This was Hiromi’s first gig at the Royal Festival Hall, and one hopes she might emulate Jarrett in returning for some solo sets that display more of the light and shade in abundance on ‘Place to Be’, but only sporadically sprinkled throughout tonight’s trio gig.
After the standing ovations subsided, the buzz in the Festival Hall foyer anticipating Hiromi’s emergence to meet her fans was electric. Perhaps only Esperanza Spalding generates similar levels of excitement. Having two women at the top of jazz can only be positive for the shape of jazz to come.
– Liam Izod (photo by Sakiko Nomura