Despite the name, London’s Jazz Café is as likely to host hip-hop as anything from the jazz canon, and in some respects it’s not the ideal venue for genius pianist Hiromi and The Trio Project. As every member of the band sits down, if you’re not in the first few rows then bassist Anthony Jackson is all but invisible and Hiromi only pops into sight when she leaps to her feet in a frenzy. Simon Phillips’ gargantuan drum kit dominates the skyline and, unlike when he leads his own Protocol group and looks out to the audience, tonight he’s facing Hiromi directly across the boards. Throughout the set, Phillips rarely takes his eyes off the pianist, watching her like a hawk, ready to react in an instant to whatever curveballs she throws at him.
It’s easy to stick superlatives on this band but Hiromi, Jackson and Phillips are three of the finest exponents of their respective instruments, and the collaborations, both live and in the studio, are always riveting. They begin tonight with Spark, the title track of The Trio Project’s fourth album, which showcases the virtually telepathic link between the players as they flawlessly navigate the song’s intricate syncopated runs. That’s followed by Desire, from 2011’s album Voice, which moves between a disco beat, reggae and hard bop, with Hiromi up on her feet, dancing and grinning in unrestrained ecstasy.
Wonderland is built around a pattern on Phillips’ Octobans and features a constant dialogue between the drum kit and the piano as phrases fly back and forth across the stage, with Jackson the imperturbable Buddha-like figure holding it all together in the midst of the whirlwind.
After the drama of the first three tunes, they ease the intensity down with the sweet and sassy groove of Seeker, then build it back up with the urgency of Dilemma, a study in dynamic peaks and valleys. Hiromi appears positively possessed as she cuts a spectacular bop solo, while Phillips takes a spot playing with mallets.
Wake Up And Dream is performed solo by the pianist, her playing seamlessly fluid and agile, then the trio return for Alive with its extended drum solo, Phillips managing to keep the audience captivated throughout, judging by the rapturous reaction. The infectious blues shuffle of All’s Well provides the encore, as Jackson finally takes a featured solo, before Hiromi is back on her feet, her fingers flying, her smile beaming. The energy and joy coming from the stage is infectious and the crowd roars in response. Simply spectacular.