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Art Hirahara (Photo by Sara Pettinella)
Pianist and composer Art Hirahara has been refining his artistry on releases for the Posi-Tone label for about a decade. His bright, thoughtful playing has enriched recordings by a plethora of artists in a variety of settings and continues to develop throughout his own excellent discography. For Balance Point, his fifth album as a leader for Posi-Tone, Hirahara teams up once again with drummer Rudy Royston and brings aboard bassist Joe Martin and saxophonist Melissa Aldana, as well. The pianist’s myriad influences are evident throughout a set that’s at once deeply introspective and quietly extroverted. “Mother’s Song,” an expansion of the Brazilian children’s song “Borboletta Pequinina,” begins the album with Hirahara alone at the piano, conjuring the sense memory of his mother singing him lullabies as a child.
A luminous spark glows ever brighter within “Blessed Son, Mr. Weston,” a tribute to Randy Weston that grooves along to an understated African rhythm. And the bluesy “G-Yokoso,” a title that puns on the Italian word giocoso, or “playful,” and the Japanese word yokoso, or “welcome,” illustrates Hirahara’s affinity for post-bop. The leader’s roots in jazz tradition are further evidenced in “Had It Happened,” his contrafact of the standard “It Could Happen to You,” and his rich solo rendition of the Duke Ellington masterpiece “Prelude to a Kiss.” The album closes with a couple of contemplative numbers, “Homage,” on which Hirahara musically expresses gratitude to teachers, parents and others who have paved the way for him, and “Lament for the Fallen,” a wistful dedication to the many jazz greats who have passed away in recent years.