Hideaki Hori: Melodies for Night & Day
As a companion piece to the previous article on Hideaki Hori’s Horizon, this follow-up post introduces the pianist’s recent solo album Melodies for Night & Day from 2022. Posting about the same musician in succession here is rare but somewhat appropriate, as this new album also pairs well with the pianist’s debut album from the previous article, marking a twenty-year milestone and a total of twenty albums released under his name in those years.
Releasing twenty albums as a leader and many more as a sideman (with groups like Paris Match, M-Swift, and Dreams Come True, and musicians like saxophonist Wataru Hamasaki, trumpeter Hikari Ichihara, vocalist Maki Fujimura, and many others) is certainly prolific. In fact, since Melodies for Night & Day, Hori’s also released a new duo album with bassist Yosuke Inoue several months ago, and there are rumors of a new trio album in the works for next year.
This milestone album is also his first solo piano album. It is a two-disc release with a “day side” and a “night side” featuring twenty songs (that magic number again), ten each of original compositions and covers. Hori combines swing, bebop, ballads, and some pop tunes on these originals and covers, with virtuosic skill incorporating familiar, perfectly interpreted melodies, unendingly fluent improvisation with naturally-timed chord layers and bass line figures adding fullness and variety.
For this album, Hori selected always-pleasing jazz standards like “How High the Moon”, “Taking a Chance on Love”, “Moon River”, and “Just One Of Those Things”. These familiar tunes provide a comfortable, relaxing setting for Hori’s extremely tuneful and musically pleasing piano playing, always honoring the music while seeming to inhabit the ears of the listeners to know what to play and when for maximum enjoyment. Sting’s “Englishman in New York” even gets the Hori solo piano treatment, played here with a wistful, light pop touch that carries you along effortlessly.
Nestled among these covers are Hori’s original compositions including his uplifting “A Song for U_U”, a nostalgic “Seascape From the Nossapu”, a heartful “Prayer for Peace”, and a frisky “Rough Sketch”, all album highlights each with their own distinct personalities. He even incorporates the sound of his Encounter quartet on solo piano with his band’s energetic live favorite “Traveler”.
The pianist’s reflective liner notes, translated below, go into greater storytelling detail about his personal history, how this album came about, and what it means to him.
(Translated from Hideaki Hori’s original Japanese liner notes.)
Twenty years have passed since I released my first leader album in 2003. This album is my twentieth album released since then. Considering the important milestone of twenty years, I decided to face the music and the piano directly and alone for this solo piano album.
If I recall correctly, I first encountered jazz when I was fifteen years old. I was playing on the Yamaha Electone and synthesizers during my junior high school days, and I was fascinated by the cool interludes and instrumental solos in J-pop and other music. I started to gradually listen to instrumental music, immersing myself in T-Square, and from there the fusion music from the Western world as my interests expanded, captivated as I was by the beautiful complexity of the Yellowjackets. As I traced back the roots of that music, I arrived at the straight-ahead jazz of Bud Powell and others. I was amazed by the cool rhythms of swing, and thought “I shouldn’t be playing electronic instruments now… I have to play acoustic piano!”. I decided to change and become a pianist.
However, the house where I lived at the time not only didn’t have a piano, there was not even space to put a piano, so I was practicing on electric piano and headphones every day. For someone like me without classical piano training, the keyboard looked the same as a piano, but the piano itself was still an unknown instrument. “What are these three pedals at my feet!?” To solve the mystery of the piano, I would go to the high school music room, sit next to classmates who were practicing classical piano, and I would study their playing methods.
As I practiced on that same piano, a member of the student group for popular music overheard my playing and invited me to join the band. Of course, there wasn’t even one band playing jazz, so naturally, I ended up playing in rock bands as well. But I wanted to play solos freely like in jazz, and when I played an organ solo with my own ad-libbed melody line in the middle of a Deep Purple song, the band members told me “That’s not right, just play the Jon Lord phrase exactly as is”, so…
I realized that it would be difficult to play jazz in a popular music student group, so I searched the “musicians wanted” pages in a jazz magazine, made some contacts, and decided to begin a jazz band of high school students outside of school. (By the way, the people who gathered at the time were Mamoru Ishida/piano, Satoshi Izumi/guitar, Shinnosuke Takahashi/drums, and Yuji Kawamoto/bass. These musicians have all become indispensable in the current Japanese music scene.)
Every day, returning home from school, I would go to a music store in front of the station and have a session with the clerk and piano instructor Shintaro Ohashi. Then at home, I would do nothing but practice. This was probably the period in my life up to now that I practiced the most.
In this way I spent my early 20s practicing acoustic piano, becoming able to play jazz to a certain extent, and got a fair amount of performance work in front of audiences.
One day, a senior musician gave me some great advice. “Your piano, well, it sounds like the way you’d play a keyboard. What if you studied more of a pianistic way of playing the piano?”
Those words completely opened my eyes.
From that day on, I started to consciously focus on tonal control of the piano.
I would transcribe (write down the score) of the piano solos of jazz legends, and when I could play them, I would make simple recordings myself. I would study the piano touch, dynamics, and use of space in my recordings and the legends’ recordings, trying to match their sound to the fine details. I would sit next to pianists who played beautifully and watch them, trying to imitate their hand formations. I struggled in a lot of unclear ways, trying to practice anything I could think of.
Around my late 20s, I was performing at a concert hall and went offstage after the first half. That day’s piano tuner spoke to me with a calm voice, saying “There are several piano players I support because I like their piano tone and their manner of playing. Hori, today, you entered that group.”
Ever since then, that person has become an essential part of my recording and performances: the piano tuner Hideo Tsuji.
It was an honor to receive such a sentiment from Mr. Tsuji on that day, and it really gave me confidence. The days that followed were interesting. I wasn’t sure if I could play the piano tuned by Mr. Tsuji to the best of my ability. How can I play this piano to bring out its best tone? From there, I learned the answer from the instrument, the piano itself. As I became able to understand how to play the inherent range of tones in the piano, I realized further how wonderful Mr. Tsuji’s tuning was.
In this way, for me, a person who never received classical piano training, my real teacher became the piano. What made me realize this was my superb piano tuner.
A few years ago, Mr. Tsuji said to me, “Hori, the time to record a solo piano album has arrived.” When I asked him what piano I should use, he answered “Steinway, right?”.
For this solo piano album, I used a special piano owned by tuner Takagi, a model called “Newburg”. It was given that name due to being a Hamburg Steinway with portions of a New York Steinway inside. This piano has a different feel from any other piano I’ve played, requiring quite a delicate touch with a corresponding range of tonal expression to a surprising degree. I completely fell in love with it.
We recorded 20 songs in about half a day. It seems like the number 20 is linked by fate everywhere this time (laughs). It’s a two-disc set including standards, newly-written original songs, and rearranged compositions, played at will as the moment took me. I hope that this music can gently accompany you for a long time in your precious moments.
Melodies for Night & Day by Hideaki Hori
Hideaki Hori - piano
Released in 2022 on Orbit Records as ORG-1006.
Japanese names: Hideaki Hori 堀秀彰 (Hori Hideaki)
Hideaki Hori: Horizon (2003)
Hideaki Hori Trio: In My Words (2010)
Hideaki Hori Trio: Unconditional Love (2014)