The initial buzz – critical and commercial – triggered by Another Mind in North America traveled all the way back to her native Japan, where the album shipped gold (100,000 units) and received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s (RIAJ) Jazz Album of the Year Award. And yet, for as high-impact as Hiromi’s debut may have been, it was just the beginning of a fascinating musical journey that has continued to gather momentum in the years since.
Her second release, Brain, won the Horizon Award at the 2004 Surround Music Awards, Swing Journal’s New Star Award, Jazz Life’s Gold Album, HMV Japan’s Best Japanese Jazz Album, and the Japan Music Pen Club’s Japanese Artist Award (the JMPC is a classical/jazz journalists club). Brain was also named Album of the Year in Swing Journal’s 2005 Readers Poll. In 2006, Hiromi won Best Jazz Act at the Boston Music Awards and the Guinness Jazz Festival’s Rising Star Award. She also claimed Jazzman of the Year, Pianist of the Year and Album of the Year in Swing Journal Japan’s Readers Poll for her 2006 release, Spiral. She continued her winning streak with the release of Time Control in 2007 and Beyond Standard in 2008. Both releases featured Sonicbloom, her hand-picked supergroup that included guitarist Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski, bassist Tony Grey and drummer Martin Valihora.
Her output in 2009 was extensive. She appeared on Chick Corea’s Duet, a two-disc live recording of a performance in Tokyo with pianist and mentor Chick Corea. Released in February on Concord, Duet was a collaboration by two artists from separate generations and cultures who transcend all boundaries to converse with each other with exuberance and passion. She also appeared on bassist Stanley Clarke’s Jazz in the Garden, a May release on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. Jazz in the Garden also featured drummer Lenny White, and the synergy resulting from all three of these luminaries made for one of the most refreshing Stanley Clarke recordings in recent years.
In June 2009, she simultaneously released two concert DVDs, both recorded in Tokyo: Hiromi Live in Concert (recorded in December 2005) and Hiromi’s Sonicbloom Live in Concert (recorded in December 2007). The former features the rhythm section of Grey and Valihora, while the latter includes Fiuczynski’s incendiary fretwork – the perfect foil for Hiromi’s high-energy keyboard attack.
Hiromi scaled back to the solo piano setting – but sacrificed none of her innate energy or passion in the process – with A Place To Be. Released in Japan in September 2009 and in the U.S. in January 2010, A Place To Be was a musical travel journal of the many places around the world that have left an indelible impression on her creative sensibilities. Recorded just days before her thirtieth birthday in March 2009, it also represented a personal milestone. “I wanted to record the sound of my twenties for archival purposes,” she says. “I felt like the people whom I met on the road during my twenties really helped me develop and mature as a musician and as a person. So in addition to making a record that represented all of these places that have inspired my music, I also wanted it to be a thank-you to those people.”
In March 2011, she followed up A Place To Be with a DVD, Hiromi Solo Live at Blue Note New York. Recorded on August 20 and 21, 2010, at the Blue Note in New York City, the video includes 11 originals and a special bonus feature with interview clips and performance footage from some of Hiromi’s favorite cities around the world.
Her newest release, a nine-song trio recording simply titled Voice, is set for Japanese release in March 2011 and U.S. release in June 2011, and expresses a range of human emotions without the aid of a single lyric. Although a mesmerizing instrumentalist in her own right, Hiromi enlists the aid of two equally formidable players for this project – bassist Anthony Jackson (Paul Simon, The O’Jays, Steely Dan, Chick Corea) and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, David Gilmour, Jack Bruce).
Taken as a whole, the individual tracks on Voice, tell a story, but Hiromi is quick to note that the story is open-ended and subject to interpretations. “I’m not talking about a story in the sense of a novel,” she says. “People can just listen to it and decide how it reflects their own lives. They can just imagine whatever the music makes them imagine. That’s the beautiful thing about music without words. It’s just a matter of using your imagination, finding your own voice within the music, and traveling with it wherever it takes you.”
Born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1979, Hiromi took her first piano lessons at age six. She learned from her earliest piano teacher to tap into the intuitive as well as the technical aspects of music. “Her energy was always so high, and she was so emotional,” she says of that first teacher. “When she wanted me to play with a certain kind of dynamics, she wouldn’t say it with technical terms. If the piece was something passionate, she would say, ‘Play red.’ Or if it was something mellow, she would say, ‘Play blue.’ I could really play from my heart that way, and not just from my ears.”
Hiromi came to the United States in 1999 to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, an environment that pushed the limits of her artistic sensibilities even further. “It expanded so much the way I see music,” she says. “Some people dig jazz, some people dig classical music, some people dig rock. Everyone is so concerned about who they like. They always say, ‘This guy is the best,’ ‘No, this guy is the best.’ But I think everyone is great. I really don’t have barriers to any type of music. I could listen to everything from metal to classical music to anything else.”
Among her mentors at Berklee was veteran jazz bassist Richard Evans, who teaches arranging and orchestration. Evans co-produced Another Mind with longtime friend and collaborator Ahmad Jamal, who has also taken a personal interest in Hiromi’s artistic development. “She is nothing short of amazing,” says Jamal. “Her music, together with her overwhelming charm and spirit, causes her to soar to unimaginable musical heights.”
“I don’t want to put a name on my music,” she says. “Other people can put a name on what I do. It’s just the union of what I’ve been listening to and what I’ve been learning. It has some elements of classical music, it has some rock, it has some jazz, but I don’t want to give it a name.”