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Japan's H ZETTRIO offer hopeful new music for a new year

Modern piano trio and clothing styles from Japan's H ZETTRIO
Used with kind permission of the band
Modern piano trio and clothing styles from Japan's H ZETTRIO

Beginning another year in a global pandemic is not a cheerful way to start a new year. Thankfully, music can offer a powerful antidote, and the new album from H ZETTRIO brings hopeful feelings for 2022. Triopic ~ Record of Fierce Battle is a musical thrill ride with a smiley face.

I don't know much about this trio from Kobe, Japan. Most of their online presence is in Japanese. Here's what I can gather through some rough translations on this intriguing piano trio.

Pianist Masayuki Hiizumi leads the group under the moniker H ZETT M. A former member of popular "Samurai Jazz Band" PE'Z, Hiizumi leads various ensembles under his pseudonym, including this new sixth H ZETTRIO album. PE'Z pals Masahiro Nirehara (aka H ZETT NIRE) and Kou (aka H ZETT KOU) on bass and drums formed the original trio with Hiizumi in 2013.

The Triopic album is buoyant and exuberant, matching the trio's flamboyant stage presentation — painted noses, theatrical outfits and feverish performances. H ZETT M's piano flies through driving rhythmic forms, pushed by urgent bass and thundering drums. The energy is difficult to match, at times rushing at a frenetic pace. The zooming song "Workout" is just that. The bright, poppy melodies recall pianists like Hiromi and Chick Corea, with hints of Ethan Iverson's classicism.

At times, the tempo slows. The lovely refrain at the heart of "Emotion" settles in at a pulsing mid-tempo with a groovy Latin beat. Another favorite is "Astronomical Imagination," benefiting from a faster Afro-Latin rhythm and romantic motif. H ZETTRIO finds some funk in the bouncy repetitions of "Middle."

Interestingly, with the Triopic album officially released Jan. 1, H ZETTRIO has also released a non-album single. "Beat Swing," available only as a download, might have you thinking of swing revival jazz. In reality, it includes some of the trio's most modern sounds.

Ray-gun synthesizer effects decorate this brisk, slightly bluesy swinger. H ZETT KOU is nimble at the drums with a variety of percussion and techniques that never distract from the catchy bounce of the song's theme. H ZETT NIRE tosses in a terrific bass solo that's so quick it feels like a cameo, but marks a clever left turn in the "Beat Swing." The song is absolutely effervescent, a blast of warm sunshine on a gray, winter day.

H ZETTRIO is a great secret weapon for fighting the doldrums, keep this single and their Record of Fierce Battle close at hand.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.