Online since August 2002

Pulling it all together

Reviewed May 2008

Beyond Standard
Beyond Standard
By Hiromi's Sonicbloom

Telarc Records: 2008

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Pianist Hiromi Uehara's music could best be described as neo-fusion. The Japanese-born musician came to the United States in 1999 to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston and released an excellent debut CD, "Another Mind," before she graduated. It was a relatively conventional jazz recording that sparkled with the artist's high-energy approach. The releases that followed – "Brain" ('2004), "Spiral" (2005) and "Time Control" (2007) have all brimmed with interesting sounds and stretched the limits of the fusion concept, but have suffered a bit from lack of focus and perhaps a bit too much of Hiromi's unrestrained artist exuberance.

"Beyond Standards" sharpens that energy and focus considerably, and proves itself Hiromi's finest effort since her debut.

As the title suggests, Hiromi and her band Sonicbloom are going after the the standards from the Great American Songbook: "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise," Ellington's "Caravan," Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," and Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," along with the Japanese song "Ue Wo Muite Aruko" (known as "Sukiyaki" in the United States) and more.

You probably haven't heard the standards quite like this, though. With guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, bassist Tony Grey and drummer Martin Grey laying down tight grooves behind Hiromi's piano and electric keyboards, the sound has the feeling of Chick Corea's late-'80s Elektric band, strutting with a jaunty élan into the future.

The set opens with "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" in a solo piano acoustic mode with and old-timey sound, featuring authentic-sounding 33 RPM record scratches, before Hiromi flips the switch and shifts into Sonicbloom's soaring and electrical rendition of the familiar tune. On "Caravan" Hiromi caffeinates Ellington's sound while guitarist Fiuczynski stings the melody with sharp electric notes. "My Favorite Things," with Sonicbloom's swirling piano/guitar interplay and infectious groove, hasn't been modernized like this since John Coltrane took his soprano sax to the song back in 1961. The set's closer, "I Got Rhythm," features Hiromi soloing on acoustic piano, playing the tune with reverence before she takes it apart and inserts her own joyous and ebullient personality.

"Beyond Standard" is an excellent set of modern sounds.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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