Posted on

Dusted Magazine has high praise for “Central Line” by Art Hirahara

A pithy observation from American naturalist Ralph Waldo Emerson graces the cardboard gatefold of Central Line, pianist Art Hirahara’s third project for the Positone label: “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” The importance of ancestry in a more historical sense folds indelibly into not only Hirahara’s audibly observable actions, but also his carefully considered approach to his instrument whether rooted in his Japanese American heritage or the diaphanous jazz lineage of which he is a modest, but consequential part.

A former student of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and California Institute of the Arts, Hirahara traded left coast for right and settled into the New York City jazz scene some thirteen years ago. Several of the myriad creative connections made over that time span are evident in his chosen cast of colleagues for the date. Bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston complete the vibrant core trio with sought-after saxophonist Donny McCaslin guesting on four tracks. Hirahara handles composerly commitments on a dozen of the fourteen pieces for a set that clocks to just shy of an hour.

A brisk opening title piece for trio contrasts with a lush solo reading of the traditional Japanese folk tune “Kuroda Bushi”. Hirahara’s touch and placement on the latter is particularly ruminative and insular, making the warm and inviting chords that comprise “Astray” all the moreso by comparison. McCaslin’s verdant presence matches the delicately languorous contributions of the rhythm section in terms of palpable allure and once again the leader’s unwillingness to rush the proceedings pays off. “Little Giant” reveals another side of the tenor/piano accord with the pair taking the opening minutes to playfully joust before their peers join in the fun.

Measured pacing also flavors the incremental architecture of “Drawing with Light” as Hirahara’s gilded progression gains heft from Oh’s cloaking bass line and carefully placed accents from Royston’s corner. A solo interlude of gently cascading chords resets the compass to a rising ballad tempo tinged with emotional shadow. If there’s a single criticism to apportion it’s a slight one and apparent in the passages where Hirahara’s effusiveness threatens to spill over into sentimental excess as on the concluding interpretation of “Yuyake Koyake”. Fortunately, those moments are few and a fine equilibrium between restraint and emotion remains the norm. The ancestors of the innumerable actions ensconced on this disc are honored in full.

Derek Taylor – Dusted Magazine

Posted on

Sweet melody to blues to impressionism. “Central Line” from Art Hirahara

Pianist and composer Art Hirahara, born and raised in the Bay Area of San Francisco, has worked with vocalists Freddie Cole and Stacey Kent as well as baritone saxophonist Fred Ho and trumpeter Dave Douglas.  “Central Line” is his fourth album as a leader and his third for Posi-Tone Records. The new album changes the focus a bit from his previous two (2011’s “Noble Path” and 2015’s “Libations and Meditations“) in that, sprinkled into the 14 tracks, there are four solo piano performances and four that add tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin to the trio of Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums).

The variety of settings is a big plus in that the program moves from the introspective solo pieces to heartfelt ballads to more uptempo tracks.  McCaslin’s appearances each stand out.  He and Royston stoke the fires on “Kin KaGold Coin“, the hardest-hitting piece, while his full-toned and emotional solo on “Astray” moves from sweet melody to blues to impressionism.  “Entanglement” also moves between lyricism and hard blowing for both the tenor and piano solos, bolstered by the splendid bass work and Royston’s fiery percussion.  McCaslin and Hirahara team up for a playful duet for the first third of “Little Giant” that continues in its buoyant mood as the rhythm section and ratchets up the energy.

The pianist shares the opening melody of the title track with Ms. Oh; their interactions through the high-speed song, punctuated by Royston dances around the drums, is pure delight.  Yes, their playing is technically impressive but the melodic aspects of the piece remain front-and-center. “Drawing With Light” is a perfect title, a ballad with a strong emotional feel that picks up in speed and intensity, the piece culminating in a two-handed piano solo abetted by the flying bass lines and powerful drumming. There’s a similar feel to “Sensitive Animal” but, while the energy certainly picks up in the middle, the piece stays on a lyrical track. Lyricism also stands out on the lovely trio version of Chico Buarque’s “As Minhas Meninas.” Ms. Oh’s fine solo is a melodic treat as is her work on the free-form “Redwood Thaw“, a short piece (1:56) on which the listener feels as if one is intruding on a private moment.

The solo pieces each have a story.  “Kuroda Bushi” is a traditional song from Japan with a stately melody line while “Introspect” is a lovely tone poem, also with a well-drawn melody.  “Tracing The Line” builds slowly, the melody unfolding and opening up  not unlike a Keith Jarrett solo improvisation.  The closing track is the beautiful and soulful “Yuyake Koyake” – composed by Kanichi Shimofusa (1898-1962), its lovely folk melody describes a late afternoon sky and is a perfect close to an impressive program.

Central Line” deserves your attention. The music that Art Hirahara created for this program gives the listener an insight not only into his fine musicianship but also into his creative mind.  Each song is a story built from his experiences as a pianist, composer, world traveler, accompanist, and human being. Enjoy this journey.


Posted on

Midwest Record gives us a look at “Central Line” by Art Hirahara

mindset2Here’s a piano man bold enough to make a modern, mainstream date and doing it while surrounding himself with hell raisers like Donny McCaslin, Rudy Royston and Linda Oh.  Swinging easy but to the left, you won’t mistake this
for cocktail jazz but Hirahara could do a killer job on that form if he every chose to take the easy way out.  Piano fans take note, this is a date not to be missed. Hot stuff.

Posted on

Jazz After Hours writes up Art Hirahara’s new CD…



Libations and Meditations

Art Hirahara is a jazz keyboardist and composer based in Brooklyn, NY. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Art moved to New York in 2003 to be challenged by its pool of world-class musicians. There he has honed his craft, performing in a wide range of musical situations ranging from straight ahead standards to time cycle-based progressive jazz to free improvisation. From the traditional to the avant-garde, Art has found a sound of his own that cuts across genres and boundaries.

Art began his training in music at the age of four, studying with Sue Shannon, an unconventional classical piano teacher who taught improvisation and composition from the earliest stages of musical development. This provided the foundation for his awakening to jazz during his studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he earned a degree in Electronic and Computer Music. During his junior year, he began jazz piano studies with the Cleveland jazz giant, Neal Creque.

He then continued at California Institute of the Arts, where he was mentored by David Roitstein, Charlie Haden and Wadada Leo Smith. It was there that he immersed himself in world music, focusing on West African drumming and dance, Balinese gamelan and North Indian tabla. After his move to New York, Art studied at the Banff Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music program with Dave Douglas in 2004.

Art has had the privilege to perform with Stacey Kent, Freddy Cole, Akira Tana, Rufus Reid, Don Braden, Roseanna Vitro, Dave Douglas, Vincent Herring, Victor Lewis, Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, Jim Black, Jenny Scheinman, Greg Cohen, Fred Ho, Sean Nowell, royal hartigan and Hafez Modirzadeh. He has performed around the world in Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and extensively around the United States.

In New York, he has played at the city’s premier venues, including Birdland, Smalls, the Jazz Standard and 55 Bar. In addition to performing, Art is an educator. He has taught master classes both domestically and abroad. He taught at the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory and is currently a performing member of NY PopsEd, an educational organization focusing on bringing music to elementary and secondary schools.

Art’s piano and compositional sound are an amalgamation of the varied musical influences he has studied and the wide range of leaders he has worked for. Art is constantly seeking new situations to challenge his musicality. Most recently this manifested itself when he was Musical Director of an off-Broadway show.


Posted on

D4M reviews Art Hirahara “Libations & Meditations”…



Piano isn’t boring. Art Hirahara takes the organic foundation of subtle keys and harsh melodies, and blends them together with a modern jazz touch along with some friends. You’ll be hearing Linda Oh on bass, John Davis on drums, and a lot of chemistry. There’s only one song made publicly available from the album, and it’s pretty great all on its own. It’s a quick bebop based jam that only lasts a good two minutes; but it’ll give you a clear view at what can be in store, if nothing more.

Give this one a listen, and then maybe repeat the listen. Let your ear wander around all the talents forming one single piece, and that’s what you can expect from the album. You can almost hear the joy, you can understand the relationship they have with each other and their instruments. Now, this single is just misleading. It’s the stuff just about everyone should enjoy, which means that this is just slightly more commercial than the rest of the album is intended to be. This isn’t bad, it’s just sad that this is the only song right now. Besides catching Art live, how will a true jazz aficionado understand the depth this man and his band can achieve? 

I guess that’s where I come in. You should expect a slightly more erratic display of talent, some fluid progressions, and a lot of relatively smooth original work. Out of the 11 tracks, Only Child by Bill Evans and Karatachi No Hana (traditional Japanese song by Kosaku Yamada) are the only non-original compositions.

If you enjoy the talent, this album is most definitely worth checking out. If you enjoy the pace, I’d recommend staying away. This is best left for wandering ears in search of new jazz, and for piano jazz enthusiasts.


Posted on

Bird is the Worm recommends Art Hirahara’s new CD…



There’s two things in play here for whyLibations & Meditations is such a strong album.  First off, Art Hirahara situates his melodies at the center of each song’s universe.  Those melodies are expertly crafted and supremely radiant… a melodic beauty that resonates strongly at any speed.  And that leads into the second quality of this album’s success:  The trio of pianist Hirahara, bassist Linda Oh and drummer John Davisare a seamless rhythmic unit, their intentions spread out like a map so that no matter how far and wide they travel, it’s simple to follow along.  This, in addition to the North Star quality of each song’s melody is what makes this such a winning album.

The bubbling personality of up-tempo tunes is hard not to fall for.  Hirahara leads out with the quirky “With Two Ice Cubes” and the speedy “D.A.Y.” is adorned with a series of missives and asides to keep the ear on its toes even as its attention stays riveted on the tightly focused stream of melody.  The jaunty “Only Child” has a cadence made for a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park and is just as affecting as the melodically headstrong “Be Bim Bop” and “Bop Bim Be,” which offers up a rare instance of free, random motion before it transforms into something structurally straight-ahead.

However, the most striking album tracks are those where the trio eases off the gas pedal.  The surging “Father’s Song” wears its heart on its sleeve, and it’s why the dramatics that mark the song ring with sincerity.  It’s a similar effect with “Big Country,” but here, the melodic drama is paired with just the right amount of restraint, pulling it back in for a graceful landing.  There’s also the graceful elegance of “Karatachi No Hana,” a quiet solo piece.  “Dead Man Posed” exudes those same qualities, but gets expressed with greater emotion.

The album ends with “Nereids and Naiads,” a song that smolders with a magnetic quality, its embers growing brighter as the song approaches its conclusion.  But even when the trio lights the song up bright in the home stretch, the melody never loses its comforting glow, radiating the strong beauty and powerful dialog that reflect the album in its entirety.


Posted on

Wonderful feature on Art Hirahara and his new CD…



Art Hirahara’s new album: a spiritual journey to Japan

After having moved from San Francisco Bay Area to New York in 2003, jazz pianist and composer Art Hirahara challenged the city’s prominent jazz scene, and its pool of world-class musicians by performing at historic venues such as Smalls, Birdland, Jazz Standard and 55 bar.  He has been privileged to work alongside Stacey Kent, Freddy Cole and Akira Tana to name a few. It was a matter of time that the musician would immerse his talent and conquer the jazz world, where his success and talent has been lavishly recognized for an on-going decade.


His recent album release Libations and Meditations (Jan. 6th) features eleven pieces of storytelling that journeyed into musical notes shortly after his father’s death. It was during this time that Art became involved in yoga, which eventually transcended into his music. He was able to harness the relaxation and mediation through the practice, and portray that inspiration into the new album title, ‘meditations’, and incorporate that into all the tracks within. Yoga has not only expanded his perspective of musical space, but also allowed him to find comfort in taking time and developing a larger sense of density or emptiness. “Dead Man Posed” is a musical representation of his yoga exploration that adroitly expresses the feelings of suspension and resolution that one tends to experience at the end of every yoga practice in Savasana (“corpse pose”).

“With Two Ice Cubes”, although written on a last minute whim of inspiration, is everything if not a savor of fulfillment. It reflects on the ‘libations’ of the album title, where it thoughtfully focuses on the musician’s liquor enthusiasm on fine cocktails and whiskey. Recently, the artist has been traveling frequently to Japan, exposing himself to an extensive selection of Japanese whiskeys (Nikka is his favorite). Aside from that being benignly lenient, the meaning of the album title also seeks a deeper sentiment that correlates to pouring an offering to elders, deity or those who have passed. For Art, this album has become an offering to his father who passed away recently, as well as a stretch in time for his ancestors who where in Hiroshima and Saga.

In perspective of Art’s Japanese heritage, his cultural upbringing shaped his musical perspective, where as a child, he attended various festivals such as Nikkei Matsuri and San Jose Taiko. During this time, he acquainted himself to the art of Japanese Folk, and its powerful traditional folk drumming. His first taste of rhythm was evoked at that time, which cultivated his passion for jazz and swing. His new album includes a constructive jazz piece titled ”Karatachi No Hana (K. Yamada)”,  a Japanese song originally introduced by his mother. This piece tends to differentiate from the rest of the track list because it journeys into his heritage and reconnects with that part of his past. The course of development for this traditional Japanese piece was specifically produced for the 50th Anniversary of the Northern California chapter of Ikenobo Ikebana (a Buddhist floral offering, referring to the name of the buildings associated with the Shiunzan Chohojo or Rokkakudo Temple in Kyoto, as well as the name of the members who served generations as head priests of the temple). His aunt was president of the chapter, and requested that he perform traditional Japanese pieces with an American jazz perspective.

Other notable pieces on the album include one titled “D.A.Y”, which represents the initials of his previous trio, Dan Aran and Yoshi Waki. It also stands as the in-between of his past and new record albums. “Only Child” was a track written by the great pianist, Bill Evans who has heavily influenced Art with his concept of interplay between members in the piano trio setting, deeply shaping Art’s approach to playing and writing.

The artist has taken his carefully anticipated musical stories to countries like Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East and the United States. He has also exposed himself to handfuls of experience to challenge his musicality by teaching at the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory, being the Musical Director of an Off-Broadway show, and experimenting with world music like West African drumming and dance.Libations and Meditations has compiled all these musical experiences achieved by Art, and gathered them into a piano bebop bliss one song after another.




Posted on

Art Hirahara CD release event at Small’s gets some jazz afterhours coverage…





Jazz Concerts and Shows

Art Hirahara CD release party
Mon, Feb 16

Art Hirahara is a jazz keyboardist and composer based in Brooklyn, NY. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Art moved to New York in 2003 to be challenged by its pool of world-class musicians. There he has honed his craft, performing in a wide range of musical situations ranging from straight ahead standards to time cycle-based progressive jazz to free improvisation. From the traditional to the avant-garde, Art has found a sound of his own that cuts across genres and boundaries.


Posted on

All About Jazz writer Dan Bilawsky’s thoughts on “Libations & Meditations” by Art Hirahara…





Pianist Art Hirahara’s latest release on the Posi-Tone label is, as the title implies, music to drink in and think in. It’s a collection of aural offerings tied to Hirahara’s experiences coping with the loss of his father, but it’s not a somber program. In fact, quite the opposite. The first three numbers—a brief, up-tempo display of pianistic agility (“With Two Ice Cubes”), a piece born with pulsation that travels to a joyous space (“Father’s Song”), and a number that highlights the grooving interplay between Hirahara, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer John Davis (“Be Bim Bop”)—make it clear that Hirahara is celebrating life, not dwelling on loss.

As the program continues, Hirahara and his trio mates continue to work with good cheer. “D.A.Y.” opens with a swampy groove from Davis and a hint of mystery in Hirahara’s fingers, but it’s off to the races when Davis and Oh open up their stride and let the swing feel take hold. Davis proves to be the star on this piece, stealing the show when he solos and steering the band back into line. Bill Evans‘ “Only Child” proves to be another winner. It’s a fine example of tripartite synergy, highlighting the connections between Oh’s springy bass, Davis’ brush work, independence, and stick-on-ride play, and Hirahara’s firm pianistic direction(s).

Those waiting for overly reflective moments will find few on this album. In fact, “Dead Man Posed,” a number that delivers peace and tranquility in swelling and receding fashion, is it. The album-ending “Nereids And Naiads” is a ruminative and soul-searching number in five that builds into something bolder; “Big Country” develops with thoughtfulness and optimism, though it’s hardly calm; and “The Looking Glass” leaves Hirahara to work out his thoughts, which are not sentimental, by himself. The message in the music seems to be that we all need to eventually look beyond the grief and pain. Loved ones are never really gone, as those that remain continue to carry them forward through stories, deeds, memories, and, in this case, music.

Posted on

SomethingElse takes a peek into Art Hirahara “Libations & Meditations”…




2014 has been a great year for jazz releases, and 2015 will already get off to a strong start with the January 6 release of Art Hirahara’s new LP, Libations & Meditations. We noted when sizing up his 2010 debut for Posi-Tone RecordsNoble Path, that the ace pianist only occasionally leads dates.

True to form, he’s taken nearly five years to follow up on Noble Path, primarily because of so many sideman gigs for the likes of Sarah Manning, Tom Tillitsch and Nick Hempton. On those records, his deep feel for melody makes him a sax player’s best friend and he brings that same sense to his own music.

Such as, Libations & Meditations. It’s another trio setting, this time with John Davis (Cassandra Wilson) on drums and the exciting young bassist Linda Oh, currently a part of Dave Douglas’ small combo. They get the ball rolling with Hirahara’s “With Two Ice Cubes,” a rollicking, snappy and clever rewrite of “What Is This Thing Called Love.” When he kicks it into overdrive, Oh’s taut walking bass and Davis’ supple snare work put a firm but not overbearing swing into the proceedings. In the meantime, Hirahara goes on a bop-ish chase for notes that never gets out of control.

And in two minutes, it’s done; nothing more needed to be said.