Young pianist finds her voice
Reviewed June 2006
Telarc Records: 2006
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Kapanese-born jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara did a burst-upon-the-scene thing in 2003, with the release of her first CD, "Another Mind." At that point, the twenty-something keyboardist had yet to finish her studies at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, but with a combination of ambition, big energy, an ebullient self-confidence and talent, she had managed to get taken under the wing of veteran jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal who co-produced the CD and land a deal with Telarc Records.
"Another Mind" was an auspicious beginning, fairly mainstream in mood but still very idiosyncratically Hiromi-esque energetic, edgy, and full of an joyously unrestrained youthful fire. 2004's follow-up, "Brain," was more of a mixed bag, with a good deal of electronics mixed into the jazz sound.
With "Spiral", the young artist born in 1979 has attained a sharper focus on her artistry, with a mostly acoustic piano trio outing that showcases her talent for writing compelling melodies and playing them with her characteristic coiled-spring intensity.
The piano trio format piano/bass/drums is a particularly difficult way to distinguish oneself in the jazz game. Technical acumen simply isn't enough. The very best at it Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk (of course), Bud Powell (ditto on the "of course"), Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett soak their individual musical personalities into that particular craft over years. Of the dozens of up-and-coming pianists out there seeking that level of top-notch transcendence, Hiromi, with her set "Spiral," announces that she might be one of the few who gets there.
The disc opens with the title tune, the first moments a gently pastoral interlude with Hiromi looking inward (previous comment on intensity aside). The sound soon gels into an assertive melodic groove, with lush and lovely harmonics; and then Hiromi brings in a brief but well-placed orchestral mode with some swirling electronics something that doesn't resurface until the closer/bonus track.
"Music for Three Piece Orchestra" is a four-part, twenty-six minute suite with a beginning, "Open Door-Tuning-Prologue," that sounds like church reverent and soul-searching. It leads into "Deja Vu," a jaunty, bubbling melody full of zing and zest. "Reverse" has a darker feel, with a propulsive groove bristling with Hiromi's musical energy.
Hiromi Uehara has found her voice a very dynamic and compelling one with the excellent "Spiral". Only time will tell if she has the stuff to join the very top level of artistry in the jazz piano trio field. If you're a betting person, put your money there.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.