From Hiromi’s recording debut in 2003, it has been evident that she possesses special piano chops. She can execute extreme complexity with breathtaking speed and precision. She also has eye-catching charisma, her rhythm sections have rock-band attitude, and her concerts generate cathartic energy. The pianist’s large following transcends the jazz audience, especially in Japan. But to sit down and listen to a whole CD of Hiromi, without the visual diversions of her live shows, can be exhausting. It can feel like being bludgeoned.
Voice is a trio date, and every piece but one is a Hiromi original. Most are like the title track and “Flashback” and “Delusion”: elaborate frameworks made of thundering chord blocks, huge spiraling runs, colliding countermelodies, jackhammering trills, cycling internal riffs and pounding hooks. What is missing is pace. The technical overkill is numbing and the energy becomes oddly static. The clattering syncopations of drummer Simon Phillips may have worked in his previous jobs with the Who and Judas Priest, but in a jazz context they create a parallel rhythmic reality, off to the side and distracting. Contrabass guitarist Anthony Jackson is more effectively twitchy and nasty and understands groove. The only cover is a fun novelty piece, “Piano Sonata No. 8, Pathetique.” Beethoven wrote funky pop tunes. Who knew?
Hiromi’s songs have titles like “Desire” and “Temptation,” and her liner notes suggest that Voice is meant to be a treatise on the vicissitudes of emotion and awareness. Apparently, even though her work consists of gestures for effect and surface flash and wild ebullience and advanced musical calculus, she intends it to touch the mysteries of the human heart.