The internationally recognized and Grammy-winning pianist and composer Hiromi, unveils her new quartet, dubbed Sonicwonder for a slight departure in her sound that now incorporates electronics and funk. For the first time Hiromi is also playing electric keyboards and synths while trumpeter Adam O’Farrill uses pedals. Hadrien Feraud is the bassist and Gene Cove is the drummer. UK singer/songwriter/keyboardist Oli Rockberger has the vocal on the co-written “Reminiscence.” In addition to new works written for this project, the album includes solo rendered songs that were released on her “One Minute Portrait “YouTube project during the pandemic that were rearranged for this group. O’Farrill, as the main conveyor of the melody, is brilliant throughout, to the point where one may think he is indeed the leader. Sonicwonderland is unpredictably fun.
The opening “Wanted” features a sturdy bassline from Feraud with Hiromi playing electric keys, synths, and her fluid grand piano. This swaying number speaks more to club vibe than the kind of jazz we associate with the pianist. “Sonic Wonderland” begins with beehive-like electronic buzzing before settling into a syncopated groove laid down by the bass-drum tandem over which O’Farrill soars with his quick bursts and choppy lines. Funk underpins the rhythm with the use of pedals and synths. It’s as the skies have transformed from stormy to clear blue on the ten-minute gorgeous ballad, “Polaris” which, has Hiromi comfortably ensconced to deliver her elegant, graceful, and deliberate lines on the acoustic piano. O’Farrill uses the echo effects efficiently as his horn blares wavelike over Hiromi’s piano, which gathers more aggressive momentum at the four and half minute mark, augmented by organ-like keys, an authoritative bass solo, and O’Farrill’s ostinato that eventually returns the piece to its calm beginnings only to rev up one more time before fading out.
“Go Go” plays a thick, funky bass line, synths, an uneven tempo and improvised phrases from O’Farrill and Hiromi that are short bursts that eventually drift into the ether. “Up” begins with powerful acoustic piano chords, O’Farrill enters triumphantly and then the electronics and robust electric bass kick in while “Trial and Error” contrasts the heavy with the light, underpinned by a brisk tempo and some of the funkiest sequences in the set with lively back-and-forth exchanges among the quartet. It evolves into spacey territory with O’Farrill’s electronic Miles-like Bitches Brew era trumpet shrieks and jabs. He gives his pedals a rigorous workout here to Hiromi’s ostinato before she elects to go electronic for a spiraling climax. On the other hand, “Utopia” offers the glistening acoustic calm akin to “Polaris.”
“Reminiscence” is the lush vocal track, a ballad introduced nicely by Hiromi’s tender touch and a most lyrical O’Farrill before Rockberger enters with his alluring layered vocals. It’s quite a contrast to the other pieces, emblematic of the diverse palette Hiromi is striving for. The closer, “Bonus Stage” begins with a intro that sounds like a xylophone in a video game before it morphs into a joyous jazz romp, with the quartet motoring along, locked in step, even as they play at blinding tempos. There’s a bit of NOLA second line vibe wafting through as well.
Hiromi’s new band embarks on quite the adventure, full of daring twists and turns, that usually defy the pianist’s earlier works. It’s certainly a sonic world apart from her 2021 Silver Lining Suite which she performed with a string quartet.
- Jim Hynes
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