Monday, May 9, 2011

Firehouse 12 Concert + Discovering the "Noble Path"

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2011 Concert Series rolls right along - attendance has been excellent with a slew of sold-out shows (both sets of Anthony Braxton's 5/20 concert are already full and have a waiting list) amidst its eclectic group of performers. 

This week, saxophonist and composer Rob Brown returns to the venue for the 3rd time as a leader (I believe his trio played in the 1st year of the series), this time with his 4-Tet  The Virginia native has been part of the creative music scene for nearly 3 decades, working and recording with the afore-mentioned Professor Braxton, pianist Cecil Taylor, the late trumpeter/conceptualist Bill Dixon, drummer Hamid Drake, various dance companies, poets and performance artists.  His discography includes over 20 CDs and Lps as a leader or co-leader and many more as a sideman.

His latest release, recently issued on the Marge label (based in France) features the group he's bringing to the Firehouse. It's an impressive cast, including vibraphonist Matt Moran, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Gerald Cleaver.  All have performed here in the past;  this is Cleaver's 9th appearance, Lightcap's 8th and Moran's 5th. The music the quartet creates resonates with far-flung influences, from the blues to Ornette Coleman's sounds to the rhythmic explorations of Matthew Shipp.  They'll play 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m.  For more information and to buy tickets, call 203-785-0468 or go to  To find out more about the busy career of Rob Brown, visit

Born in the Bay Area of San Francisco, pianist Art Hirahira has been playing, studying and teaching music most of his life.  He's studied with Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith at CalArts, performed with Dave Douglas, Vincent Herring, Travis Sullivan's Bjorkestra, Jim Black, Jenny Scheinman, Fred Ho, Sean Nowell, royal hartigan, and Rufus Reid.  His work on saxophonist Sarah Manning's impressive 2010 recording "Dandelion Clock" (Posi-Tone Records) really caught my attention (Ms. Manning's playing is mighty impressive as well) and now the label has issued his first CD as a leader in over a decade.

"Noble Path" features the pianist/composer in the company of bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Dan Aran and is one of those "piano trio" recordings that captures one's ear with its musicality, subtlety and intelligence.  Don't let that scare you away - the music also has bounce, swing, and strong solos.  The program starts with the warm swing of Hirahira's "I'm OK", with a melody, a piece that feels influenced by Phineas Newborn Jr. and Harold Mabern, with a piano solo that moves easily from two-handed chordal phrases to rippling single-note runs. Waki and Aran keep the flow moving without over-playing.

The CD includes 4 "standards", ranging from the driving hard-bop attack of "All or Nothing at All" to the gracious take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" to the lithe swing of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" (really strong piano solo) to Cole Porter's gentle ballad "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (the rhythm section is soft, supportive and creative behind the pianist.) Each song respects the original piece but the trio's interactions make each piece shine anew.

Hirahara's compositions cover much creative ground. The title track starts with a handsome melody (with a bit of a country music twist in the phrases) before stretching out into a sweet piano solo (Aran's snare work mirrors the pianist's lines nicely.)  A hint of both gospel music and Vince Guaraldi can be detected on the beautiful "Peace Unknown" with the pretty melody and piano solo supported by melodic bass lines and muted drums.  "Ebb and Flow" has a joyous swing, gentle not hard-edged while "Nocturne" is dreamy at the onset then opens up with some of the "freest" playing on the CD (the musicians go "out" without losing the melodic kernel of the piece.) "Change Your Look" begins with a harder attack (there's a hard-driving section in the first third of the performance) then the pianist takes it down before jumping back into a faster pace. The tempo shifts back and forth as the intensity rises, ending on a short, impressionistic, solo piano coda.

"Noble Path" is a generous hour's worth of music, generous in many senses, not the least of which is the abundance of melody.  Like the trio music of Bill Evans and Denny Zeitlin, the listener is drawn in by the quiet intensity of the players, by solos that capture the ear with unique turns-of-phrase, and sharp interplay.  Art Hirahara is a musician and person you should check out - his music will win you over.  For more information, go to

Download and enjoy the title track by clicking on the link below, courtesy of Posi-Tone Records and IODA Promonet.
Noble Path (mp3)

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