Thursday, May 3, 2007

Hiromi: Sonicbloom Time Control

By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 5.3.07
Buy CD: Sonicbloom Time Control

Hiromi Uehara is a 26-year-old pianist, born and raised in Japan, who came to the United States in 1999 to study at Boston's Berklee College of Music. 

She began to play piano at age 6, and within a year was a student at the Yamaha School of Music. At 14, already recognized as a prodigy, she went to Czechoslovakia and played with the Czech Philharmonic. She was 17 when she met Chick Corea, who invited her to perform with him. 

Corea was just the first jazz artist impressed by her; Ahmad Jamal co-produced her first CD for Telarc ("Another Mind") in 2003. 

This is the fourth album she has released on the same label. 

Her basic group is a trio, but she added a guitar for this CD; she also wrote all the arrangements. She plays both standard and electric keyboards; David Fiuczynski plays electric guitar. The rest of the rhythm section consists of British bassist Tony Grey and Slovokian drummer Martin Valihora. 

The quartet's sound clearly shows Corea's influence, though Hiromi's compositions are far more intricate than anything he did. Take note: This is definitely not straight-ahead jazz, and it may be far too "modern" for mainstream listeners. 

But based on the number of CDs released, and the comprehensive sales package assembled by Telarc, this group obviously is considered a "hot property." 

And yes, as a keyboard artist Hiromi is dazzling: blazing fast one moment, serenely soft the next. 

Her love for jazz was late to arrive, and her classical training is evident in the slow and mid-tempo compositions. But too much is going on in some of her arrangements, and she erred in using a jazz-rock guitarist, rather than a more standard player. Her compositions have a distinctly Asian feel and atmosphere, which clashes with the jazz-rock guitar stylings. 

While Hiromi obviously is a prolific composer, I'd like to hear her versions of some basic jazz standards. 

But I certainly understand why Telarc is excited about her. It will be a pleasure to hear Hiromi grow musically.

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