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“Hmmm” Senri Oe


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After an extraordinary series of performances at the Tokyo Blue Note and the Blue Note Hawaii, Senri Oe was all set to roll on Hmmm, the pianist’s first ever piano, bass and drums trio project with drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Matt Clohesy.

Not long before he was about to record at 2nd Story Sound in the East Village, the pianist received an urgent call from his sister regarding their ailing father in Osaka. Knowing the time might be near, Senri returned to Japan to see them. He helped create a beautiful moment where his dad, no longer able to speak, tried to write a message on the blackboard and was able to raise a glass of beer in what would be a surreal final toast.

When Senri returned home to NYC, his sister called to tell him that their dad had passed away. Dedicated to his father, the album’s six trio pieces and three instrumentals are infused with the topsy turvy swirl of emotions the pianist had experienced during the previous month - from the highs of some of his most acclaimed ever live performances with Hoenig and Clohesy to the sorrowful parting and celebration of the life of his father. He booked a total of three days at the studio, and locked out 11 hours the first day. Yet the outpouring of energy was so intense that Senri romped through the three solo piano tunes in half an hour. The trio came in at 1 p.m. and was finished by 6 p.m.

“I feel like life is sometimes very hard, but when I think about it in a deeper way, like the album title says, Hmmm…I’m the luckiest person in the world to be given that opportunity to make that final toast,” Senri says. “In the weeks leading up to the recording, I was riding a rollercoaster of good and bad things and felt like I was in emotional limbo. I learned a lot about myself from my dad passing away. Life is tough, but you have to move forward. Life can also be more beautiful than you ever expected as you learn to ride. I make music to get fresh air, and I want people to think of me and listen to my music when they feel life is too tough to face.”

Considering the dynamic roll Senri has been on since the 2013 release of his PND Records debut Boys Mature Slow, it might surprise his fans that it’s taken him until his sixth album to do a traditional trio date. The simple truth is, in the beginning he wasn’t confident enough in is artistry and considering the plethora of emerging youthful piano trios at the time, he didn’t feel there would be a big enough “piece of the pie” for him. His output since then has earned him critical acclaim from jazz magazines and blogs throughout the U.S. and Japan for his adventurous piano style and ability to ensemble in a multitude of unique settings.

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Boys Mature Slow featured a two-horn quintet. Senri’s follow-up Spooky Hotel (2013) featured arrangements performed by a full big band. Senri’s eclectic discography also includes Collective Scribble (2015), with him performing as part of a straight-ahead trio featuring saxophone; and Answer July (2016), which found him vibing with renowned jazz vocal greats Sheila Jordan, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens and Lauren Kinhan of the Grammy winning vocal ensemble New York Voices. On Boys & Girls, his first pure solo piano collection, Senri artfully connected his current jazz artistry with his former career as a J-Pop vocal superstar in the 80’s and 90’s, bringing fresh improvisational energy to instrumental re-imaginings of many of his classic hits.

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Senri’s multitude of diverse musical explorations gave him the confidence to assemble his trio from a wish list of greats. He had played one informal gig with Hoenig and a mutual friend in 2010 that the two could barely remember, and was excited when Hoenig agreed to go on tour and later record with him. A prolific band leader in his own right, Hoenig has played extensively with Jean Michel Trio, Kenny Werner Trio, Chris Potter Underground, Kurt Rosenwinkel Group, Joshua Redman Elastic band, Jazz Mandolin Project and groups led by Wayne Krantz, Mike Stern, Richard Bona and Pat Martino. Clohesy’s expansive resume sports tours and/or recordings with Seamus Blake, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Geoffrey Keezer, Eric Reed, Ingrid Jensen, Tom Scott, Sean Jones, Gretchen Parlato, Nat Adderley, Jr., Maria Schneider and the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble.

“I like to say Ari is beyond the jam of the music,” Senri says, “and if I had the chance to make music with him, I would need a mutual mediator and someone who was very rhythmically stable, and that’s why Matt fit so well into this scenario. Ari is like a kaleidoscope of wild ideas, and I’m also a performer who brings a bunch of different colors and textures. Matt meets us right in the middle while also being very funky, versatile and creating different kinds of bright, deep sounds. This trio is amazing. I actually had not planned to do another recording this soon, but when we realized how strong our connection was and experienced so many standing ovations, I asked them if they wanted to make an album of this trio. Everything came together very quickly.”

Senri’s clever song titles speak to the blend of whimsy and introspection/reflection he brings to the collection. He intersperses his three brief, beautiful and graceful piano pieces – two interludes (“Freshening Up,” “When Life Was A Pizza Party”) and a postlude (“A Fireplace”) - among six lively, swinging gems that showcase Senri’s spirited, often lighthearted yet powerfully percussive trademark piano style as he interacts with the dynamics-filled grooves created by Hoenig and Clohesy.

The opening track “ReVision” is divine elegant funk, with jazzy flourishes and snappy interaction between drums and piano. “Poignant Kisses” is a lively, buoyant romp featuring some of Senri’s most freewheeling playing, spunky jamming by the principals and a bouncy bass solo. The easy swinging, deeply soulful “Indoor Voices” mixes moments of joy and sorrow, with both moods reflecting Senri’s belief that our inner voices always offer us clues that take us to the next level in our lives.

The trio brings touches of sensual exotica to “Bikini,” an up-tempo, free-flowing samba with percussive accents and alternating dark chords and high-end piano dynamics. The rambunctious showstopper of the set is “Orange Desert,” a funky, vamp-driven barnburner written by Senri as he crossed the California desert at sunset with his tiny dog, on his way to Los Angeles to study percussion with the legendary Peter Erskine.

“Everything we’re doing on Hmmm goes back to that emotional rollercoaster,” Senri says. “You can’t stop it, but you can find places in your life where you feel no tension and just relax and let things flow the way they are supposed to. Ari, Matt and I found this kind of place, exchanging very organic musical ideas throughout the shows and recording of the album. Once someone had a sustainable idea he could convey, the others would catch it and from that create some incredible, unexpected interplay. After a while, we had the power to believe in each other onstage, and that chemistry translated perfectly to the studio. Talk about things that make you go Hmmm…”




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