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Listening to "XYZ," the opener on 23-year old pianist Hiromi’s debut, Another Mind, is like taking a sucker punch. You never see it coming and it knocks the breath out of you. "XYZ" is a cross between "Giant Steps" and "In America" taken at light speed. This diminutive young woman has anything but a diminutive sound or vision. About the time you catch your breath, Hiromi introduces the tour de force "Double Personality" with Dave Fiuczynski on guitar and Jim Odgren on alto saxophone.
Defying all categorization, Hiromi Uehara (who goes by her first name) and this merry bunch speed across a tightly composed an choreographed tonal landscape that sounds very much like well behaved contemporary jazz gone wild. Fiuczynski employs a variety of effects in his playing that range from very melodic to atonal. He plays slide guitar, standard guitar and sound effects. Odgren’s full-bodied alto has a R&B twang. All of this is pinned down by Dave DeCenso’s deft rock drumming.
"Summer Rain" is a bit more introspective, but still every bit the burner as the first two cuts, with Odgren playing like a cross between Dave Sanborn and Maceo Parker. "Joy" has the flavor of church and is the most down-home of the compositions. "010101" hums with technology when Hiromi explores some electronics. All these compositions are clever in conception and staggering in performance. The solo closer, "The Tom and Jerry Show," betrays a bit of whimsy among billions and billions of notes performed in every style of jazz piano ever conceived (and yet to be conceived). All the pieces clock in at over five minutes, allowing the composer and performer to adequately express the complex ideas contained in this very smart music.
In the same way that Sonny Rollins' "Blue Seven" (from Saxophone Colossus ) can be considered a touchstone of jazz composition in the 1950s, so can "Double Personality" in the 21st century. Hiromi is just starting her conquest of jazz; it should be exciting to hear how she will shape the music’s future.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.