Hiro Honshuku, A-No-Ne Christmas – Ryles, 12/13/17

Hiro Honshuku

For his band tonight at Ryles in Cambridge, flutist Hiro Honshuku features Latin and jazz renditions of Christmas songs. This is a septet, with Yuka Kido, also on flute, Helio Alvez, on piano, Mauricio Andrade, on guitar, Fernando Huergo, on bass, Guillermo Nojechowicz, on drums, and guest Rika Ikeda on violin.

The songs have sparkle, and the sultry feel of a warm climate. “The Little Drummer Boy” has nothing of the pathos of usual versions, but is quick with changes and drive. Kido rolls out hard, modal flutters, and Alvez is grand, with glassy arpeggios. “It Came upon a Winter’s Night” is soft and caressing and reflective, Honshuku leading with a blue-note inflected solo, which Kido continues with the dark tints of stained glass. The two flutists move in counterpoint to conclude the song, returning subtly and seamlessly to the melody.

Honshuku showcases three versions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, and the third is fast paced and restless, but alive with washes and flashes. Kido solos, with sharp, strong intervals, then Andrade, with dark romance on guitar; and Honshuku and Ikeda duo with fury, lashing and sparking. There is a brief coda after the return to melody which is a like a celebration of confetti, each artist splitting away and apart, and showering as one again together.

Honshuku is a sharp, acute, complex, and gentle player, with great fusion of the styles with which he works. Each musician is balanced nicely and uniquely under his direction. It is hard to direct a septet and make room for so many shifting voices, but he does it. It is also especially difficult to do a Christmas show and still give it the feel of inventive jazz. Honshuku achieves this balance, so you always feel as if you are hearing new songs, however warm and familiar they are.

Especially with “Greensleeves”, trademarked by Coltrane in the ‘60s, The septet creates a practically new song out of it, dipping and swooping and swirling. You don’t pin it down until the end.

Honshuku plays EMV, an electronic wind instrument, as the show closes, for “Gloria”, so funky it’s irreverent. Then he picks up piccolo for”Silent Night” backed with a solid, hard rock guitar riff. This is definitely a spiritual experience, but it changes the meaning of church, and gives a jolt to the holidays.