By Ric Bang
Buy CD: After the Rainfall
Once in awhile, we encounter an artist who just has too much talent; Hiroe Sekine falls into that category. This Japanese-born young woman is a pianist, composer, arranger and vocalist — she sings in four languages — and she excels at each skill.
Her first album a-me (which means “rain”), released in 2009, utilized a sextet featuring piano, sax, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums; half the tunes were her compositions, while the rest were jazz standards ... and everything swung marvelously.
For this release, she retained Bob Shepard on sax and flute, and Peter Erskine on drums, added guitarist Larry Koonse, and utilized two bassists: Darek Oles on acoustic and Jimmy Johnson on electric. This instrumentation, and Shepard’s use of flute and the higher-register reed instruments, results in a “lighter” sound. In addition, while a-me contained only instrumentals, After the Rainfall includes some vocals; Sekine’s voice, heard on the title song (her own composition), Jobim’s “Inutil Paisagesm” and Toninho Horta’s “Aqui O,” is exceptional. Her duet with Arnold McCuller on the beautiful Beatles ballad “In My Life” is gorgeous.
A quartet format — consisting of Sekine’s piano, Sheppard’s soprano sax, Ole’s bass and Erskine’s drums — is used for Chick Corea’s “Windows” (one of Sekine’s favorite melodies). The final three tracks ably demonstrate how well this lady swings. For “So But Anyway,” she switches from piano to electric keyboard; Koonse and Sheppard provide great solos, backed by some tasty work by Erskine. “Spoon Key” is a truly swinging, straight-ahead tune that will cause all body parts to move; and Monk’s lesser-known “Evidence” morphs into a rock/fusion mode.
This is an exciting follow-up to Sekine’s debut album: a release that fulfills the promise of that initial offering. Her many significant talents, particularly when combined with the similarly excellent artists in the combo, will ensure great success for her in the future.