Science and jazz do not come up too often in the same conversation. Even more unlikely is that spatio-spectral colour filter array design will feature. Unless you happen to be talking with the Ivy League-educated researcher and professor at the University of Dayton, Ohio, Keigo Hirakawa. His work in image processing is part of a major research initiative at the university. More pertinently, in his other career, he has a Master of Music degree and 20 years as a professional jazz pianist with seven full-length album appearances, three as leader.
Previous albums have featured Hirakawa working in a trio format. Pixel brings a change of configuration to a five piece. He is joined by Brandon Scott Coleman on guitar, Robert Hurst on bass, Alex White on drums and Rafael Statin on saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. Hirakawa wrote seven of the tracks here and Coleman one. The Detroit-based rhythm duo of Hurst and White, share a history of working together and it shows; they deliver a powerhouse performance that is a highlight of this album.
The album opens with the title track. The piano states the theme (someting of an ear worm), before the drums snap in and Statin's sax joins. Gathering intensity, the sax gives way to Coleman's guitar, then Hirakawa's piano. Hurst and White guide the time changes and embellish a dynamic opening track. "Far Above," offers a change of pace, opening with gentle melody on guitar, the pace gradually increases as Statin and Coleman join, with Hirakawa adding swinging piano.
"Origami Beetle" presents Hirakawa at his best and also allows Statin to take his sax to the edge. "Unmarked" has fluent piano and guitar breaks to which Statin adds bass clarinet and flute, all against furious drumming from White. "Yaw Pitch Roll" is a piano trio piece with Hurst to the fore. Coleman features on his own track, "Gently Awake," before the band workout on "Change of Plans."
Hirakawa has been mentored by world-class jazz artists, including Danilo Pérez, Cecil McBee and Donald Byrd. The result is an articulate pianist with an excellent melodic vocabulary. His jazz-fusion quintet explore the themes in a highly charged and dynamic way. Showing that science and jazz can mix, this sophisticated album has much to like and applaud.