Chick & Hiromi "Duet"
February 5th 2009 by Andrew Lienhard

I thought my stereo had gone wonky. One of the speakers quietly hissed while the other trumpeted a piano intro-cadenza. As I futzed with the balance knob, a different piano began playing from the idle speaker. Problem solved: this CD is a true stereo split, with each pianist panned to their own channel. A rarity, but then it makes sense too. If you have two great musicians going head-to-head the separation helps to discern who's doing what. Indeed they sound so similar at times that I found myself back at the balance knob panning the solos. That's all it took to solve the mystery too.

Put simply, no one plays quite like Chick Corea. His flawless sense of time provides the first bit of key forensic evidence. Then you have the mannerisms and embellishments, which while easily imitated, remain unmistakable when coming from the source. This Corea-ness is most apparent on his blazing solo intro to "Humpty Dumpty" (more on that shortly).

[spoiler alert: it's Corea in the left channel]

With ears properly calibrated for the session, one becomes aware that it's Corea at the wheel with an excited Hiromi buzzing around him in perfect synchronicity. She has all the technique in the world and is clearly a student of his legacy. It's also clear that she has perfect pitch, which makes the interplay all the more fun.

This double-live CD from a Tokyo Blue Note club date runs through the obvious repertoire of chestnuts like "Spain" and "Windows" with interesting versions of "Fool on the Hill" and "How Insensitive". I confess a bit of ear fatigue after listening to the entire two hours of music. In smaller doses though "Duet" has many phenomenal moments of disarmingly flashy piano playing. Hiromi's original composition "Old Castle, by the River, in the Middle of a Forest" (I suppose this reveals her prog rock roots?) gives a much needed contrast to an otherwise blistering session. Her other contribution "Place To Be" does the same thing. I was pleasantly surprised to discover her fine writing abilities in addition the monstrous piano talent on which she has become famous.

"Duet" does not rise to the same stature as his legendary duet concerts with Herbie Hancock 30 years earlier, but it certainly provides a welcome addition to the many 'young lion meets master' releases put out over the years. It also serves as an intriguing invitation to a great new artist in Hiromi, for those previously unfamiliar with her abilities. Finally, "Humpty Dumpty" is a mind-bender. Check out this CD just to hear it.

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Rating: ***
: Concord Jazz
Release Date: February 3rd, 2009

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