Big time jazz returned to London on Tuesday night with the Hiromi trio project performing at the Jazz Café in Camden Town. Hiromi came on stage to the sort of reception we have come to expect from the Jazz Café, a nice raucous one and we were not disappointed.
The trio project consists of Hiromi on piano and keyboards, Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar and Simon Phillips on drums. An international trio; Hiromi being Japanese, Anthony hailing from the United States and Simon from good old London. The trio have recorded four albums together and have been touring the world the last few years. When the Hiromi trio project appears in a town near you, every effort should be made to see them play. Jazz Café was absolutely packed, in fact standing room only, which is good; as the Café is standing room only anyway, other than the restaurant area upstairs.
The music performed was a unique mixture of jazz and rock, with elements of oriental and perhaps classical plus folk as well. This is no coincidence; Hiromi hired Anthony and Simon precisely for the vision of the sound she wanted to create. Simon has been one of the top drummers in the world since the 1970s, recording with the likes Toto, Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce and many others. Anthony Jackson has been one of the top session musicians, for instance he played on Chaka Khan’s hit “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”. Anthony has also performed with many greats since the 1970s, including John Scofield, Grover Washington jnr and the brilliant group Eyewitness headed by Steve Khan. Anthony plays the six string contrabass guitar, in the manner of a rock player as opposed to the typical punchy sound of a jazz bass guitar player; which is why Anthony’s sound is so unique and has been in demand on all types of recordings. Hiromi herself is a bundle of energy on the piano, bopping up and down, standing up, sitting down! Not seen anything quite like her for some time. Besides the great musical experience, it was a great visual experience as well.
This is why it is important artists like Hiromi play at venues such as the Jazz Café. Since its opening in 1991, the Jazz Café has always offered a different experience for jazz fans. The venue has changed hands on a few occasions and the latest incarnation has a slightly new look and a change in layout, however, the relaxed atmosphere has remained undeniably the same; in fact Joe Zawinul often called the Jazz Café his favourite venue when he came to London. The Café offers something special; standing room only. That allows the audience to really let it hang out, dance, sing, shout, scream and in turn inspire the musicians on stage.
Since 1991 I have seen some of the very best jazz musicians at the Jazz Café; Jackie McLean, Zawinul Syndicate, Tony Williams, Barbara Dennerlein, Yellowjackets, Mike Stern, Billy Cobham, Greg Osby, McCoy Tyner, James Blood Ulmer, Christian McBride, Azymuth, Eddie Henderson, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Steve Williamson, Dennis Rollins, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Larry Corryel, Victor Bailey, Harvey Mason, Randy Brecker, Robin Eubanks, Robben Ford, Jean-Luc Ponty and John Scofield. Other artists I have enjoyed there include Jody Watley (Shalamar), Fat Back Band, Soulive, Mark King, Headhunters and Blackbyrds. What makes seeing artists at the Jazz Café so unique? It is like watching artists play at a venue like the Borderline, jazz becomes a vibrant force, not just something you sit down, listen to and clap politely,
A musician friend who was at the gig mentioned to me how surprised she was by the demographic of the audience. Having been to the Jazz Café so many times over the years, I never gave it much thought until this came up, which was the audience on the whole was very young! To me that has always been the case, in fact, the first time I went to Jazz Café I was 21 years old, to see Jackie McLean; the Jazz Café has always been a young audience. This is important, because the question has always been how does jazz attract a young audience? And for me the answer is simple; have venues where you can turn up to see the best musicians in the world, in an environment which is relaxed, ticket prices fairly reasonable, standing room only and allow people to dance if they want to dance and take photos if they want to take photos.
That has always been the case at the Jazz Café. The much larger Forum in Kentish Town also had that vibe for many years but in recent times has stopped booking jazz musicians. That kind of environment always inspires musicians to go that extra mile and really pull out a performance, which is exactly what the Hiromi trio project did on Tuesday night. With that kind of reception, for one night jazz musicians must feel like pop stars when they perform at the Jazz Café.
It was a pleasure to see the Hiromi trio project perform at the Jazz Café, and it is great to see the Jazz Café bring top jazz artists to London, this could really help to revive the London jazz scene and provide a much needed alternative venue for jazz.