Hiroe Sekine’s sophomore album ‘After The Rainfall’ comes alive in tasty pastel shades
Jazz artists talk of versatility. But Japanese pianist/composer Hiroe Sekine takes it to another level entirely, especially in her sophomore album, the quiet, reflective, scaled-down, After The Rainfall. It’s quite a follow-up to and quite a departure from her lavish, big band-ish, 2010 debut, A-mé (Rain).
As in both CD projects, Sekine worked with Yellowjackets’ Russell Ferrante as producer, included her own compositions along with some covers, and enjoyed a top-notch group of polished L.A. session musicians, like Peter Erskine, Bob Sheppard, and Larry Koonse.
After The Rainfall (released on March 20, 2012 through Sekai Music) tries to capture the pastel images of a world coming to life following a storm — through melody, often angular, haunting voice, and light, airy tones. That Sekine does this by roaming expertly through Brazilian and classical genres, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, an island stylized Beatles, duets, vocal soundscape, and dexterous piano interplay is… astounding.
Growing up in Japan and listening to her mom play Japanese folk music on the organ, Sekine started off trying to replicate those sounds, graduated to classical training, and, before too long, found herself restless and yearning to make up her own. In 2009, while studying at USC, Sekine discovered she had a knack for writing songs when she won the university’s Discovery Scholars and Jazz Chamber Music Ensemble Awards.
Her deeply felt songwriting gift shows mind-blowingly in this, her second CD effort. At times, it feels like there are several artists at play here, instead of one, multi-talented lady at the piano/keys and the microphone… clearly holding her own with the big guns. “After The Rainfall” — built on her fascination with standards, some pop, Brazilian tunes, and taking the everyday (owls, rain, a misheard phrase) and transforming them into the profound through her own works — is easy to get into, from the first track.
Unlike a lot of her peers, Sekine can do it all. Just when you settle in for her unbelievably complex piano playing, and seamless combo riffs with the other band members (guitarist Larry Koonse is off the hook), “Aqui O” comes on. In this Toninho Horta/Fernando Brant song, she sings like Astrud Gilberto (“The Girl From Ipanema”) — in breezy Portuguese, capturing the Brazilian music wave of the 1960s. She sings even better than Gilberto, to tell you the truth. She does it again in Jobim’s romantic bossa nova, “Inutil Paisagem,” as if she were born and bred near the shores of Rio, not Japan. Enchanting, and two of my favorites from the album.
One song rise above all the others to best reflect Hiroe Sekine’s depthless, shape-shifting soul. Inspired by a dream she had one day, “So, But, Anyway” rocks like a bass-thumping-funk band from downbeat to flourish. The execution of bass, sax, keys, and guitar surpasses 80 percent of what’s already out there. There isn’t one self-indulgent, throwaway note. This song manages to keep melodies tight and the rhythm grooving with enough room for each soloist to shine — and they do shine, while maintaining the integrity of the song’s flowing energy. She put all that together from a melody she heard in her dream? Wow.
I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
Review originally appeared in Examiner June 13, 2012.
What’s next is her third record, One World One Sun. A beautiful haiku of a fusion record, One World One Sun is set for a July 21, 2017 release from Sony Music and features an even more expansive, multi-cultural take on jazz. The new album showcases Sekine and a band flavored with drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Michael Valerio, producer Russell Ferrante, and a host of special guests playing exotic instruments on 10 splendid new tracks focusing on the rhythms and styles from places far outside her norm: the Caribbean, Ireland, Morocco, Hawaii, and flamenco Spain.
Look for a fresh take on Sekine’s jazz/world music soon.