Hiromi's martial art
by Seth Rogovoy

Hiromi’s martial art

Keyboardist Hiromi flaunts her wide-ranging musical interests on her new trio album, “Brain” (Telarc Jazz). The follow-up to last year’s critically-acclaimed debut, “Another Mind,” kicks off with a very athletic, Herbie Hancock-derived, aptly-titled, fusion original, “Kung-Fu World Champion,” full of fire and funk and machine-gun drums by fellow Berklee College alumnus Martin Valihora. But midway through, Hiromi showcases her more lyrical, pastoral side on a piano solo, “Green Tea Farm,” equally lush and evocative of a watercolor landscape. Hiromi makes a return engagement at Club Helsinki (528-3394) on Saturday at 9.

Incidentally, Hiromi figures in a competition heating up starring local composer and musician Larry Chernicoff, of Alford, whose CD, “October,” has been nominated as Best Made for Surround Title in the 2004 Surround Music Awards. The other four nominees include Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, the Surf City Allstars, the Rolling Stones and Hiromi. The winner will be announced on August 31. Last year’s winner in the same category was Steely Dan. Go Larry.

Stew’s problem

The fact that singer-songwriter Mark “Stew” Stewart has a band called The Negro Problem offers a hint at his penchant for ironic whimsy. He’s been called the “black Burt Bacharach” and is often compared to Randy Newman, although he claims Jacques Brel as his primary role model. He exhibits hints of all of them on “Something Deeper Than These Changes,” which includes dark, claustrophobic cabaret songs like “Mind the Noose and Fare Thee Well” and a very Leonard Cohen-like “Kingdom of Drink,” and
stark, keyboard- and guitar-oriented songs that discuss love, parenting, war, and life in bohemian Los Angeles. Stew is at Mass MoCA in North Adams (413-662-2111) on Saturday at 8 as part of the Alternative Cabaret series.

Toots Hibbert’s soul

It’s hard to believe that Bob Marley has been gone for 23 years, but the reggae legend’s influence is so deep and widespread that he still seems ubiquitous. But if reggae lost its greatest songwriter and voice to an early and tragic death in 1981, there are still a few other pioneers around to show subsequent generations how it’s done correctly. Toots Hibbert is one of those; in fact, he coined the term that gave the music its very name. If Marley was reggae’s greatest writer, Hibbert is probably the genre’s greatest vocalist and song interpreter. Who else could turn John Denver’s “Country Roads” into a reggae song? As heard on Toots and the Maytals’ latest CD, “True Love” (V2) – a collection of duets between Hibbert and the likes of Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Shaggy, No Doubt, Ben Harper, Keith Richards and Ryan Adams – Hibbert still brings an incredible amount of soul to his music.

Backstage bits

Singer-songwriter Laura Wetzler performs her “Jewish Women in Jewish Song” program at the National Yiddish Book Center (413-256-4900) in Amherst (on the campus of Hampshire College) on Sunday at 2. Wetzler’s concert includes songs across Jewish traditions including blessings, bawdy ballads, Yiddish, Ladino, Hebrew, English, Russian, Luganda and Amharic…. A film crew working on a documentary film about Lenox’s Music Inn in the 1950s and early 1960s is looking for any film footage that exists from that era. If you have any footage or know of someone who might, please e-mail me at and I will pass your information along to the producers.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 12, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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