If there’s a drawback to all-star groups, it’s that they have little to prove. Which may explain why it took a few years for Japanese pianist Hiromi to find the formula for her vaunted Trio Project, with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, to gel like her gifted 2004-2009 trio with younger fellow Berklee alumni Tony Grey (bass) and Martin Valihora (drums). Alive, recorded live in the studio, boils in comparison to the Trio Project’s standard studio predecessors Voice (2011) and Move (2013).
Hiromi concerts with Jackson (whose credits include Chick Corea, Al Di Meola and Steely Dan) and Phillips (Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour) have been more energetic over the trio’s four-year reign, as documented on the 2011 concert DVD Live in Marciac. Alive explodes out of the gate with even more velocity. After an ethereal intro, the nine-minute title track features the pianist’s signature classically influenced soloing and stop-and-start sections amid the rhythm section’s accelerated tempo.
“Wanderer” includes a middle solo that’s one of Hiromi’s career bests—no small feat—displaying influences from James P. Johnson to Sergei Rachmaninoff to McCoy Tyner in its bluesy, classical and swing sections. More experimental than most believe her to be, Hiromi mutes the piano strings on the Latin-influenced “Dreamer”; morphs the initial nursery-rhyme feel of “Seeker” into a seven-minute suite; and hints at Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” in the intro to “Player” before she and Jackson contribute breathtaking solos.
Jackson and Hiromi have recorded together since her 2003 debut, and the bassist glues the mercurial pianist to Phillips, who arguably one-ups even his breakthrough recorded performance on Beck’s 1980 album There and Back. This trio’s next project should be to bring the intensity of these performances in front of actual concert audiences.