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Art Hirahara: Verdant Valley (Posi-Tone)

A review of the pianist's eight album as a leader for Posi-Tone

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Art Hirahara: Verdant Valley (Posi-Tone)
The cover of Verdant Valley by Art Hirahara

Art Hirahara is a true thinker and seeker. Over the course of seven previous leader dates on the Posi-Tone imprint, this pianist has made his mark with an introspective, investigational approach that’s all his own. That commitment to self-reflection and the act of discovery continues to yield artistic dividends, as demonstrated throughout this engrossing album.

Leading a band of familiars including tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston, Hirahara fully invests himself in a broad variety of settings. First comes the emotionally arced “Zero Hour,” developing around a foreboding single-note ostinato, building intensity in McCaslin’s flight through odd-metered territory and trailing off with uncertainty. Penned during the early months of the pandemic, it’s a work that speaks volumes about the intersection of personal and universal emotion. Then comes the title track, where Kozlov’s bow draws the ears toward greenery; “The Shadowist,” translating Caravaggio’s tenebrism into sound logic; “Truth Called Love,” Hirahara’s open-hearted solo take on a composition he wrote nearly 25 years ago; and “Symbiosis,” dealing with the topic of balance between man and nature while living up to its name in soaring play.

That initial handful of offerings says more than enough about Hirahara’s contemplative nature and venturesome visions, but it doesn’t even account for half the program. Six additional numbers follow—the leader’s speeding “Escherian Steps,” Wayne Shorter’s wise and haunting “Lost,” Kozlov’s smartly sashaying “Danza por Arte,” and Royston’s tender “I Used to Love Her” among them—and each magnifies those inherent qualities in different manners and to varying degrees. Every performance seems to complement what surrounds it, as do the musicians themselves. Both pensive and probing, and contoured to recognize the relationship between valleys and peaks, this album encapsulates the true essence of Art.

Learn more about Verdant Valley on Apple Music.

Art Hirahara: Bowing Before Giants

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.