The word “piano” is actually a shortened version of its original name, which was “pianoforte.” It literally means “quiet-strong” which set it apart from its sister the one dimensional harpsichord. Both the “piano” and “forte” were in full display by two different artists at the ivories, each one emphasizing a part of the root word.
Justin Kauflin ambled up to stage with his faithful seeing-eye dog and delivered material from his embracing debut album Dedication. With his faithful canine at his feet, he opened with the longing title track, weaving moods and melody, while the following “Eliusive” mixed Debussy-esque impressionism with ruminating swing. As a cross dangled from his neck his fingers delivered a deep and contemplative “Thank You, Lord” that mixed hymn-like reverence with a gospel fervor. If this is a portend of things to come, his dog is the luckiest animal in town.
On the “forte” side of the river, Hiromi spryly came on stage with an all star trio of Anthony Jackson/bg and Simon Phillips/dr. Emphasizing unrecorded material, she opened with an elegant unaccompanied rubato before popping the clutch and setting fire to the pistons with “Spark” which had the trio creating hairpin turns at a 6G force intensity. Her fingers gave a new meaning to “hand is quicker than the eye” as she and Philips created volcanic excitement on the whirlwind of “Desire” while the drummer’s tom toms set the tone for Hiromi’s hyper-boplicity as piano keys and drums ricocheted like a shootout at the OK Corral. The trio put the “progress” back into “progressive jazz” as the leader jabbed the piano keys on “ Dilemma” as if setting up the victim for a knockout punch, with the actual piece itself had more underlying themes than a Tolstoy novel before the trio ran together in a photo finish.
Hiromi let things settle down a bit as she did a solo piece “Wake Up and Dream,” toying with the melody like a cat and a ball of yarn. The leader warned the packed theatre that the closing “In a Trance” was going to be “challenging and exciting” and there was truth in advertisemnent. Wild thunderous movements lead to sweeping interludes, creating sonic tiles of a mosaic that by themselves would seem unapproachable, but taken into the whole creates a multi-hued work of art. The teamwork that it takes to create such a seamless mix of structure and improvisation was bewildering to say the least. Hiromi’s Trio Project was the best advertisement for her next album, and for the dynamics of what 88 keys are capable of doing in the right hands.