Jazz Review: Hiroe Sekine - After the Rainfall

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Hiroe Sekine - After the RainfallWith After the Rainfall, pianist and composer Hiroe Sekine follows up her 2010 debut, Rain, with a collection that spans multiple styles. The shoe doesn’t always fit, mind you, but her spirit and sense of adventure pervades each track.

Sekine thankfully isn’t bound by many of the encumbrances of traditional labels and that has helped the Japanese native push boundaries that other musicians don’t dare to, but the trouble is finding her identity in what are some really lush, interesting pieces of music.

The closest to the real Hiroe Sekine comes, I think, with the appearance of “Song of the Owl,” the first track from After the Rainfall. This piece has as its inspiration the owls near Sekine’s home and appears a very personal number. It basks in the imagery, with wordless vocals used to evoke the majesty of flight.

Along with Sekine’s piano and vocals, After the Rainfall features the services of Bob Sheppard (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute), Larry Koonse (guitar), Darek Oles (acoustic bass), Jimmy Johnson (electric bass), Peter Erskine (drums, percussion), and Arnold McCuller (vocals).

Where Rain used a “miniature big band” complete with three horns and a rhythm section, After the Rainfall switches the script for a smaller ensemble in an attempt to draw greater intimacy out of the tunes.

The title track makes great use of more wordless vocals and the delicate arrangement is soothing and comforting. Sekine’s piano is a highlight as it serves up lovely colours while the rainclouds clear.

“So, But, Anyway” is another Sekine original. It uncorks Johnson’s bass and finds the fearless leader swapping her ivories for some keyboard action. The track is easily the album’s most energetic, with a trio of sharp solos punching up the fun.

Unfortunately, After the Rainfall isn’t without its missteps. “In My Life,” a Lennon/McCartney cover, feels wooden and somewhat forced, like the players weren’t too comfortable with the tune. And a couple of the Brazilian pieces, like Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Inútil Paisagem,” lack spark.

Hiroe Sekine is at her very best when she’s warm and casual. After the Rainfall benefits momentously from her own compositions, which charmingly condense the magic of the natural world and the simple kiss of the rain, but some of the other pieces are underwhelming. There’s no doubting her talent, but some of the pieces feel like they should’ve been left out in the rain.