Pixel, Tokyo-born, Ohio-bred pianist Keigo Hirakawa's third album as leader or co-leader of his own ensemble, has the sleek, laid-back feel of a well-engineered jam session as Hirakawa leads the way through seven of his generally engaging compositions (and one by guitarist Brandon Scott Coleman) with reliable backing from his supporting cast.
Besides Coleman, the trustworthy team includes woodwind specialist Rafael Statin, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Alex White , each one a reputable veteran of the jazz scene. Together, they place Hirakawa (and, on occasion, Statin and Coleman) on solid footing as they pursue their solo initiatives. Hirakawa is an eloquent spokesman, dexterous and sharp-witted, while Coleman is capable and Statin respectable, more so on soprano sax or bass clarinet (Coleman's ballad "Dreaming Awake") than on tenor, on which his several high-octave sorties are more irksome than decorous.
Statin is listed as playing flute on the graceful "Unmarked Path" and gossamer "Yaw Pitch Roll," but it sure sounds like a soprano sax. Statin's brawny tenor isn't heard until Track 3, "Origami Beetle," and returns on the following number, "Unmarked Path," and the fast-moving closer, "Change of Plans." Hurst solos on the opening "Pixel," White on "Change of Plans." While their solos, and those of Coleman and Statin, are for the most part fine, it is clear that Hirakawa's statements are decisive and carry the most weight.
As noted, the session seems well-engineered, and there is a reason for that, as Hirakawa's "day job" is professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Dayton, a skill he apparently keeps in mind as he navigates his way across the keyboard. It is largely his skills that raise Pixel above the norm and make listening to the album a pleasure.