Japan has added a wealth of fine pianists to the jazz genre. That said, few -- if any -- are as relentlessly inventive and stylistically mercurial as the award-winning Hiromi Uehara. Whether she is playing solo, with a trio, or a full-on electric band, she is as likely to meld post-bop and funk as she is rock and classical, and sometimes all four in the same composition. Beginning with Another Mind, her 2003 Telarc debut, she challenged genre classifications with her technical command of the instrument, her dynamic feel for harmony, and a complex rhythmic sensibility alternately athletic and soulful. Combined with a musical sense of humor, she pushed boundaries as part of her natural approach to jazz. Spiral, recorded live in 2005, was cut direct to disc with her then-working studio trio and celebrated internationally. In 2008, she and Corea recorded a double-length series of provocative and swinging piano duets in front of Tokyo's Blue Note audience. A year later, she appeared with Corea's former Return to Forever bandmates Lenny White and Stanley Clarke in the bassist's trio for Jazz in the Garden, and the Stanley Clarke Band on the following year's Larry Has Traveled 11 Miles and Waited a Lifetime for the Return of Vishnu's Report. Her longstanding Trio Project, with contra-bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, made its debut on Voice in 2011, where progressive, vanguard, and post-bop jazz were wed to fiery improvisation and bluesy readings of Beethoven. The same year she released Get Together: Live in Tokyo, the first of two live albums with pianist/vocalist Akiko Yano. It showcased funk and pop, bop and jazz ballads. The Trio Project became her primary vehicle, touring and recording almost constantly, with each album different and more challenging than the last. She also found time to release Live in Montreal, a duet offering with composer and harpist Edmar Castaneda in 2017. Hiromi was born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1979. At the age of six she started playing piano. Within a year, she was a student of the Yamaha School of Music, whose progressive approach to musical training allowed the young student to shape her technical skills, writing, and performing. After relocating to the United States in 1999, she continued her studies at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where she received a full scholarship. It was there that Hiromi developed her varied musical taste, encompassing everyone from J.S. Bach to Sly & the Family Stone. While at Berklee, she also had the opportunity to play with jazz piano legends Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, and her mentor, Ahmad Jamal. In 2003, Hiromi recorded her first disc, Another Mind, on the Telarc label, produced by Jamal. Brain was released a year later, followed by the pianist's third trio album for Telarc, Spiral, in 2006. For her next album, Hiromi augmented her trio with avant-fusion guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, releasing Time Control in early 2007. Beyond Standard, a thematic continuation of Time Control, was also recorded with her Sonicbloom trio and released a year later. The solo piano set Place to Be followed in 2010. For 2011's electro-acoustic Voice, Hiromi formed the Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips. 2012 saw the issue of the Live at Marciac DVD. After a break and festival appearances, Hiromi & the Trio Project returned to the studio and delivered Move in 2013; it was followed by the all-acoustic Alive in the summer of 2014, and a world tour. The Trio Project returned to recording in 2015, emerging from the studio with The Spark in April 2016. In 2017, she and harpist Edmar Castaneda released Live in Montreal, followed by a second offering with Akiko Yano, Move: Live in Tokyo. Hiromi recorded solo for only the second time on 2019's Spectrum. ~ Al Campbell
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Jazz - Released April 22, 2003 | Telarc
On the back of the CD case is a photo that is basically a heads-up as to what you can expect from this debut album by 23-year-old jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara. She is standing outside wearing a black dress and a strange yellow-and-white wrap. Her face is turned up to the sky, her eyes and mouth closed, her jaw clenched; her arms are held straight down by her sides with her fingers splayed wide. It's a stance that bespeaks intense energy and a certain defiance. Most of the music contained in the CD seems to have been made in a similar attitude, for better and, occasionally, for worse. Uehara plays with an almost demonic energy and amazing stamina; on a program that consists entirely of original compositions, most of them delivered in a standard piano trio format, she zips from style to style with a sense of urgency that borders at times on the manic. Her propulsive "XYZ" opens the album with churning intensity; "Double Personality" finds her alternating between nearly harmolodic free improvisation and carefully composed modern jazz; "Joy" offers a gentle breath of fresh air before she resumes her headlong musical charge. The album ends with a bonus track, an unaccompanied piano piece called "The Tom and Jerry Show," which alternates between loopy, Carl Stalling-esque avant-gardism and high-speed ragtime. By the end of this album you'll be tired, but it's a good tired. Heaven only knows what her next album will sound like, but the laws of physics would seem to dictate that she'll have to slow down a bit. ~ Rick Anderson
Jazz - Released January 1, 2014 | Concord Records, Inc.
Over four years of traveling and two previous recordings, Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara and her Trio Project, with contrabass guitarist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, have become one of the finest units in contemporary jazz. Their particular prowess lies in seamlessly performing the pianist's knotty, technically challenging, often unpredictable compositions; they are also a closely united group of improvisers. Alive, co-produced by Hiromi and Michael Bishop, was cut over three days. The long title track is filled with unexpected twists, turns, and harmonic feints that lead through a labyrinth of classical, post-bop, and fusion-like segments. Phillips' drumming is outstanding, propulsive, and insistent; it underscores Hiromi's piano vamps and solos and foreshadows seismic shifts in the composition. "Wanderer" is classically inspired in its elaborate use of solo and group counterpoint. It transforms quickly toward swinging post-bop halfway through. The elegant melodic line in "Dreamer" is framed by double-timed floor tom and kick drum, even as the tune's shape and dynamic turn sharp corners quickly. Hiromi's solo takes center stage with crystalline ostinati and spirited legato runs. The taut athleticism in the first three tracks gives way to a more playful imagination on "The Seeker." Here, blues, gospel, and bop come together as Jackson's earthy, swaggering groove waxes prosaic. His more aggressive attack drives the fragmented post-bop on "Player," where Hiromi openly displays the influence of her mentor Ahmad Jamal in her solos. "Warrior" is startling in its use of group counterpoint and imaginative, harmonically rich crescendos. "Firefly" is a meditative solo piano piece whose gradually established theme nearly sings. "Spirit" makes exhaustive use of gospel in its slippery, bluesy approach (Jackson's solo is particularly attractive). "Life Goes On," which closes the set, is accessible yet very sophisticated contemporary jazz. Its funky center is filled out with punchy soloing from the pianist. She develops it in the lower and middle registers before flying over the keyboard and vamping to keep the groove. Phillips' snapping rim shots lead the charge and add accents to Jackson's fingerpopping solo. Given Hiromi's wonderful compositions for this collective, Alive's consistent signature is one of surprise. They are wildly complex, yet sound natural and free of artifice. Its feel is bright, warm, and hip, easily her finest outing with the Trio Project to date. ~ Thom Jurek
Jazz - Released September 18, 2019 | Telarc
Since making her recorded debut in the 1990s, Hiromi Uehara has established herself as one of the most gifted jazz pianists of her generation. She issued Spectrum on the eve of her fortieth birthday as an overview of what she learned as a musician in her thirties. It's the second time she's done this; her debut solo offering, Place to Be, in 2009 that surveyed her twenties. Hiromi conjures up the same power and creative facility solo as she does with her Trio Project (bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips). Spectrum addresses a guiding notion imposed by her piano teacher: that she quite literally envision prismatic color through music. Set-opener "Kaleidoscope" commences with a sequence of single notes played in an angular pattern that gives way to episodic multiples in staggered and syncopated sequences -- a bit like Philip Glass' piano cadences in Einstein on the Beach -- and she adds and subtracts while layering fleet and forceful dynamics and spiraling arpeggios across, under, and atop her chordal syntax; they emerge, dissipate, and evolve into new ones throughout. You can hear everyone from Bach and Scarlatti to Art Tatum and Chick Corea in this workout. The physically demanding title track builds on a similar idea, although modal and contrapuntal acrobatics chase one another at high speeds with only expansive, chordal interludes offering respite, and then only briefly. But speed and dexterity aren't the only things on offer. Her ballads, including "Whiteout," offer an elegant lyricism that touches on Beethoven and Ravel as well as Scott Joplin and Errol Garner. It aches with emotion and the hint of a smile in its improvisational moments. "Yellow Wurlitzer Blues" reflects the harmonic invention of Thelonious Monk if he were a stride blues pianist. Hiromi's sense of improvisational lightheartedness is stacked in punchy grooves in turnarounds with deft scalar feints for good measure. She offers a wonderfully inventive take on ragtime in "Mr. C.C.," an homage to the original king of comedy (and composer) Charlie Chaplin, with a crescendo worthy of his "City Lights." At 22 minutes, "Rhapsody in Various Shades of Blue" is not only the longest cut here, it's the most mind-blowing. Of course it uses George Gershwin's iconic composition as the recurrent theme and jumping-off point for integrating jazz (including John Coltrane's "Blue Train"), vintage American song, contemporary improvisation, blues, and pop -- Hiromi grafts Gershwin onto the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" inside this labyrinthian suite, then returns to the source -- with canny improvised embellishments along the way, illustrating not only several shades of the color blue, but a panoramic vision of these composers. This 75-minute recital portrays the nearly spiritual command Hiromi has of her instrument and its various languages to extend her astonishing technical facility. More than this, however, it underscores the visionary, authoritative place her pianism commands in modern jazz. ~ Thom Jurek
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