Online since August 2002

Young pianist finds her voice

Reviewed June 2006

By Hiromi

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.

CD Review Archive | Music Home Page | Turbula Home Page