Unusual times call for unusual music. The latest album by Japanese piano virtuoso and composer Hiromi—Silver Lining Suite, to be released by Telarc on October 8 (with a 2-LP release set for December 3)—was recorded live with a string quartet during a series of limited-capacity, live-streamed concerts at the Blue Note Tokyo. This piano-quintet format, certainly not a typical one for Hiromi, was born of circumstance. Having been quarantined in Tokyo ever since the COVID-19 pandemic cut her scheduled U.S. tour short in March 2020, the pianist had played an earlier series of shows at the Blue Note solo: 32 concerts in 16 August and September days. Approached by the club to return for a second engagement in December and January (later postponed to March due to a return to lockdown conditions), Hiromi didn’t want to do it on her own, but her usual bandmates were across the Pacific and unable to travel.
Then an idea began to form. “I’ve always had a passion for writing for strings,” she says. “I put four chairs on stage near the piano and something clicked in my head. I saw that setting, piano and four empty chairs, and I started to hear something. I knew it was going to work.”
JazzTimes is honored to premiere the first track to be made public from the resulting album, titled “Someday.” The piece was originally composed for Hiromi’s “One Minute Portrait” series, in which she played virtual duos with long-distance collaborators on her Instagram page; bassist Avishai Cohen was her initial partner. For the Silver Lining Suite performance, she took that duo sketch and rearranged it for a quartet consisting of violinist Tatsuo Nishie, violinist Sohei Birmann, violist Meguna Naka, and cellist Wataru Mukai.
As a whole, the suite—which incorporates both old and new melodic material—presents what its author describes as “my emotional journey through the pandemic.” That journey, though at times tortuous, ends on a note of hopefulness. “The morning will come,” Hiromi insists. “The sun will rise again. That’s why I kept writing music.”
Since the performances documented on Silver Lining Suite, Hiromi has been in the public eye to an even greater degree; she played during the opening ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics in July.