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Hiromi's Sonicbloom: Beyond Standards

Woodrow Wilkins By

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If music reviews are starting to have an air of familiarity about them, it's because the music calls for it. So many new releases are comprised mostly—if not entirely—of cover songs, summarizing the sound can be as effortless as striking the on/off switch. Fortunately, some artists aren't content to merely record their version of something old. Hiromi's Sonicbloom shakes it up, flips it over and turns out something that looks and smells new, in Beyond Standards.

Japanese-born keyboardist/pianist Hiromi Uehara leads the ensemble, which also includes Tony Grey on bass, Martin Valihora on drums and David Fiuczynski on guitars. The group has received rave reviews in such publications as Down Beat, JazzTimes, Keyboard magazines, and The New York Times. Uehara herself has earned several major awards, including Jazz Album of the Year by the Recording Industry Association of Japan for her debut, Another Mind (2003). Subsequent Telarc releases Brain (2005), Spiral (2006) and Time Control (2007) have also garnered honors and helped increase her popularity. The last two of the series featured Sonicbloom.

After an introduction that borrows from Uehara's song, "Time Control," the quartet begins an ethereal take on the Oscar Hammerstein/Sigmund Romberg title, "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise." The song takes on an other-world beauty, aided largely by Uehara's piano and keyboard. Grey's electric bass, underscored lightly by piano, guitar and drums, adds to this trekking-through-space feel. Fiuczynski contributes a guitar solo.

Claude Debussy's "Clair De Lune" is fresh and invigorating. Sonicbloom turns this classical piece into a modern jazz tune. Valihora is crisp on the drums and cymbals. Uehara is part Chick Corea, part Bob James on the piano. Fiuczynski and Grey lick their chops as well. The closing sequence on this number marks one of the album's high point, as all four musicians express freedom while continuing to sound like a unit.

The dynamic bass line helps set the tone for an unusual take on Juan Tizol's "Caravan," which was popularized by Duke Ellington. Fiuczynski has the lead for most of the song, injecting some Mike Stern-like tones. The group pumps lots of energy into the song, especially when Uehara takes the keys through a rapid-fire solo, followed by Valihora's all-out drum solo.

Some of the covers on Beyond Standards aren't typical at all. One is a Japanese pop song, "Ue Wo Muite Aruko," and the other is "XYG," a variation of Uehara's "XYZ," a track from Another Mind. And while the melodies of some of the American Songbook standards are familiar, Hiromi's Sonicbloom takes these tunes into places they've never been before. Uehara and her ensemble don't play it safe.

Beyond Standards lives up to its name.

Track Listing: Intro: Softly as in a Morning Sunrise; Softly as in a Morning Sunrise; Clair De Lune; Caravan; Ue Wo Muite Aruko; My Favorite Things; Led Boots; XYG; I've Got Rhythm.

Personnel: Hiromi Uehara: piano, keyboards; Tony Grey: bass; Martin Valihora: drums; David "Fuze" Fiuczynski: guitars.

Title: Beyond Standards | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Telarc Records

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