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Hiromi: Spark

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Rock musicians get that they are entertainers. Too often, jazz musicians don’t. Hiromi gets it. “All the people I respect in music have been aware of producing themselves: Miles Davis. Herbie Hancock. Pat Metheny,” she has said. “They are very focused on atmosphere.”

Hiromi produces herself. Her concerts have as many melodramatic crescendos as coliseum rock. It is impossible to take your eyes off her, a small sprite with big hair, as she whips around the stage, throwing herself upon her keyboards, furiously attacking them. She usually plays to large, loud, adoring crowds.

That Hiromi brings a younger audience to jazz is beautiful. The problem is that an audio recording must stand on its own. Without the visual stimuli, without the communal feeding frenzy, without the “atmosphere,” Hiromi’s music is revealed for what it is: all surface gesture, contrivance without substance. Spark is both spasmodic and scripted. Its wild eruptions are calculated for effect. So are the self-conscious moments when she cleverly goes quiet. If Hiromi is ever genuinely spontaneous over the course of these nine tunes, then her improvisations keep finding similar patterns. The tight cycling block chords halfway through the title track, relentlessly repeated, are representative.

The song titles give no clue. “In a Trance” is the furthest thing from reverie. “Wonderland” is more manic than magical. Both contain passages of stunning velocity; both are exhausting. Hiromi’s chops enable her to function at warp speed. She is definitely into degree-of-difficulty, and she sticks every landing. But her incessant hammering is all about energy. What she does is more athletic than aesthetic. “Jazz” feels like the wrong word for it. It is The Hiromi Show. You have to be there.

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