Jazz critic Gary Giddins once described early bebop as music that was "giddy with its own virtuosity." A variety of different things came after that period of giddiness -- the introspection of cool jazz, the deep-thinking spirituality of modal post-bop and avant-garde jazz, the rock-influenced intensity of fusion -- but bebop and hard bop did, in fact, have more than their share of performances that thrived on both giddiness and virtuosity. Post-bop, even at its most optimistic and exuberant, is seldom described as flat-out giddy, but giddiness definitely characterizes much of Hiromi's acoustic post-bop pianism on Place to Be (which finds the Japanese improviser playing unaccompanied solo piano). On this 2009 recording, Hiromi often sounds like she is, to borrow Giddins' phrase, giddy with her own virtuosity. But she isn't giddy in a bebop/hard bop way. This is essentially post-bop, although Hiromi incorporates elements of everything from European classical music to stride piano and ragtime. She even quotes Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" on "Show City, Show Girl," but Place to Be -- unlike some of Hiromi's other albums -- never really ventures into fusion territory. And even though Place to Be has its reflective moments ("Somewhere" and "Daytime in Las Vegas," for example), Hiromi's playful, capricious exuberance prevails on many of the selections. She can be cerebral, but she isn't cerebral in an elitist, exclusionary way; instead, she gives the impression that her virtuosity is giving her a great deal of elation, and she sincerely wants to share that elation with the listener. As it turns out, playing unaccompanied is perfect for Hiromi; the acoustic solo-piano format gives her plenty of room to explore her creative impulses. Hiromi can be quite self-indulgent at times, but she is never self-indulgent in a bad way -- and the lack of accompaniment yields excellent results for her on Place to Be.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson