Hiromi Uehara: Hiromi's SonicBloom
Scullers Jazz Club
June 13, 2008
Globalization has penetrated every aspect of our lives, and pianist Hiromi Uehara could not be more at home, wherever that may be. Commenting on her 2007 Telarc release, Time Control, Hiromi says, "I was inspired to write these pieces because my life is so hectic. I regularly feel jet-lagged and always seem to be in a different time zone. I find myself at airports with more time to think about time, and I often wonder, "Am I controlling time or is time controlling me?"
In Boston Friday night Hiromi commented between songs explaining, "I think I fly around the globe at least six times a year, and the furthest I have been is South Africa." While she may not be able to feel comfortable living in multiple time zones at once (who can blame the 29-year-old Japanese native?), her music certainly has no problem flowing through multiple complex time signatures. The music has assimilated the cultural and stylistic differences absorbed from such a worldly lifestyle. The effect on the listener is the feeling we experience from traveling to many different places: a combination of awe and exhaustion stemming from a band whose synergy thrives in the era of Globalization.
Considering that each member of the band hails from a different country and speaks a different native language (the exception may be bassist Tony Grey from England and guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski, who was born in the US but raised in Germany), the music is inspired by the explosive, impulsive yet diverse chops and stylistic differences among the musicians. Says the pianist, "I wanted to work with Fuze because I was looking for somebody who would be strong enough to influence the band. I didn't want someone who could easily fit inI wanted a crazy new voice, a very strong tasting spice. He's very spontaneous, and you never know which direction he'll take."
On June 13 nothing could have prepared the audience at Scullers Jazz Club for what Hiromi was talking about as accurately as the composition "Time Travel." Weaving through synth effects, fast-break beats, ensemble fusion hits, and up-tempo swing, "Time Travel" can be variously seen as a journey through the evolution of jazz, Hiromi's journeys, a study in stylistic contrasts, the very meaning of what constitutes jazz, or the question of time itself. After the applause died down, the image of a tired traveler who has seen and experienced a whirlwind of events...perhaps too many, immediately came to mind.
Given Hiromi's desire to incorporate the influences of everyone from Oscar Peterson, Sly and the Family Stone, and Michael Jordan, the music can be a bit daunting for someone not ready to accept the multiple influences reflected in much music of the age of globalization. For those individuals, the evening's opener, Romberg's "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," must have been deceptively shocking. Hiromi played an introduction in the classic stride piano style of the 20's, sounding every bit as convincing as Oscar Peterson's evocation of the challenging style. As she descended on the final chord, the band jumped in with electronic distortion and a heavy 7/8-fusion groove, proving there was nothing soft about this particular morning.
Fiuczynski's guitar effects on Duke Ellington's "Caravan," the evening's closer, were vividly painted the image of traveling through a desertnot in a caravan but instead a stomach-dropping machine of transport from the future. On this tune, special mention and praise must be given to Slovakian drummer Martin Valihora, who displayed a dazzling showcase of technique as he burned through an impressive solo incorporating cowbell and drum rims alike.
The audience was treated to an encore solo piano performance of the timeless standard, Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." Images from black and white footage of the legendary Art Tatum came to mind, Hiromi's technique was that breathtaking. Playing complicated lines at warp speed is one thing, but to do it with such control and dynamic subtlety is extremely rare. Sadly, the piece brought our evening's journey to an end.
Says Hiromi, "Other people can put a name on what I do. It's just the union of what I've been listening to and what I've been learning. It has some elements of classical music, it has some rock, it has some jazz, but I don't want to give it a name." Equal parts fusion, swing, groove, electronica (Friday night Hiromi used two keyboards in addition to the house piano), and every bit improvisatory, SonicBloom defies any conventional name. For now, the term Global Music might be as accurate as any description.