It’s an encouraging sign for contemporary music that Stanley Clarke and Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi manage to sell out the London Palladium tonight.
As Clarke tells the audience, the duo were borne out of necessity when a drummer (spared shame by remaining nameless) failed to show up for a trio gig. But there’s nothing missing in tonight’s all-acoustic set of piano and upright bass, even if the two performers are a study in contrasts.
The diminutive Hiromi is a bundle of energy, jumping to her feet when the spirit moves her and, like Keith Jarrett, becoming so possessed by the music she moans and grunts while playing. Meanwhile, Clarke is the anchor holding everything in place; his right foot a metronome tapping out time, even when he cuts loose with his own explorations.
They open with Bit Of Burd and Hiromi is already flying. This is followed by Sakura Sakura, on which the pianist finds seemingly endless avenues to explore around Clarke’s sassy bassline. They dig deep into the jazz vaults for the old standard Dardanella, which features Hiromi at her most fluid, while Clarke throws in the first batch of slapping and popping; a feat as impressive musically as it is visually on the upright bass. That wraps up the first set.
Hiromi starts the second half solo with Old Castle, By The River, In The Middle Of The Forest from her 2006 album Spiral. It’s simply extraordinary, as she throws in a dash of My Favourite Things and her fingers become a blur.
When Clarke comes out for his solo spot, he’s greeted with “Follow that!” from one wisecracking punter. But he rises to the challenge with a selection of what he calls his “bass folk songs” – tunes written specifically for his chosen instrument. When he segues into School Days, the venue erupts, before Clarke wraps up the song with a burst of percussive slapping and popping.
Hiromi returns and the duo reunite on Thelonious Monk’s Rhythm-A-Ning, showcasing their rapid-fire interplay. “We could stay here all night,” yells another punter. “I’m with you, brother,” replies Clarke, before they launch into Joe Zawinul’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, and Clarke makes that bassline groove so hard. The standing ovation that follows is entirely deserved.