“I wanted to capture the moment when people feel a strong spark for something,” jazz pianist/composer Hiromi says of her new album, aptly titled Spark (Telarc). “It’s like when you first get introduced to an amazing book or movie or play; the moment of encountering something.”
Hiromi has been making sparks fly alongside her ensemble of Anthony Jackson on bass and Simon Phillips on drums since their first album Voice was released in 2011. Much more than just a super group, Hiromi’s trio project is a meeting of like musical minds; a collective of ferociously accomplished musicians with both NASA-like technical facility and heartfelt restraint. The band blends blistering solos, earth-shaking grooves, odd-meter interludes, and tender ballads into its signature, cinematic sound.
Following the band’s sound check at New York’s storied Highline Ballroom, Hiromi took time to talk about the process and precision behind the making of Spark.
The last time we spoke was back in 2013, when your album Move came out. Can you tell me how this ensemble, featuring Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips, has evolved since then?
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Well, we’ve been touring so much and doing countless shows. Simon has actually been counting the number of shows and says yesterday was number 263! [Laughs.] You know during the writing process as a composer, it’s always so much fun when you know who the performer is you are writing for. When I know that, I write more specific things. Playing with them so much made me able to look at both of them from every different angle. I could really show sides of them that hadn’t been shown before. Also as a band, we really sound like one. We know exactly what’s going on inside of each other’s head and we can really read each other’s minds now. We have little telepathic moments.
Back in 2013 you spoke of how you wanted to write songs specifically for this band. You said, “Since we made the album Voice, the three of us have been touring and playing together a lot. We would jam together at sound check, and the more we played, the deeper I understood Anthony and Simon’s playing. Whenever I write music as a composer, I want to make the other musicians shine. It’s also as if the composer Hiromi is writing for the pianist Hiromi. I orchestrate everything for piano, bass, and drums, and I try to make everybody shine in different ways.” Is that still your process when you write for this band?
Yes, and it’s amazing that the composer Hiromi still can write so many things that the pianist Hiromi can’t play, you know? [Laughs.] I do write a lot of odd meters, for example, but I never really try to write odd meters or other difficult things. Things just naturally become that way. For example, the song I wrote called “Dilemma,” for the new album is in 11/8. When I first came up with the melody, I just loved it. Then I counted it and realized, “Oh my goodness, it’s in eleven! I’ve never played in eleven.”
A prime number is always kind of difficult to play in. I thought, “Can I make it 12/8 or maybe 5/4,” maybe adding one more beat, or releasing one beat? So I tried to make it easier, but what happened was that the special feeling I had for the original melody was gone. So I realized it had to be in eleven. It usually happens naturally like that, and then I just have to keep playing until I feel comfortable with it.