It’s a good thing Hiromi plays piano — if the kinetic and sprightly 26-year-old Japan native had chosen a less anchored instrument, she could plausibly levitate into the ether like so many wayward weather balloons. It’s also a useful tool when you’re trying to drown out loudmouth boors in the audience.
On a January Thursday — two days after her third album, Spiral, is released on the Telarc label — Hiromi takes the stage at New York City’s famed Blue Note jazz club. Her cockeyed ponytail casts bebopping shadows on the club’s blue walls, while her face rips the wince-into-a-smile page from Ray Charles’ playbook, then contorts like a Romanian gymnast. Dude, she is feeling it. But some patrons, primarily tourists and expense account novices, aren’t. Specifically, a table of lively Brits conversing and laughing. Loudly. Rudely.
Yet Hiromi hangs tough, and by the end of her set manages to shut the Brits’ yaps for a few minutes. But they’re back to playing fools by the time headliner Kenny Garrett hits the stage, and they are not so politely suffered. During his fourth tune, with the louts even more audible (at least Hiromi had a rhythm section), the veteran saxman grinds his soft soprano passage to a hissing halt. “Y’all think y’all are gonna use me for background, huh?” he snaps. “That’s not gonna happen.” And with that, Kenny finishes his number and walks. Show over.
“Oh, so you were there on that night — they were a tough audience,” Hiromi notes diplomatically a few days later. “That group, especially, was a really tough audience, and I couldn’t get them until the end. And that happens sometimes. That’s why great music is interesting, because everybody has different tastes.”
Including Hiromi. She lists Liszt, mentor Ahmad Jamal, King Crimson, and Sly and the Family Stone among her faves. And despite her presence at the Blue Note and an impressive collection of critical notices, the pianist is merely jazz by default. She bounces off a number of styles, including rock and more than a morsel of classical. Her current set-closer, “Return of Kung-Fu World Champion” (inspired, she says, by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan), recalls the electronic funk of Herbie Hancock’s glory days, and hopefully ultimately serves to silence the concertgoing boors of America for good.
“I was just trying hard to knock at the door of their heart the whole hour,” Hiromi concludes. “And sometimes, maybe for one last tune, it happens, and then I win.”