Hiromi Plays Blues Alley

Franz A. Matzner By

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Her greatest strength, however, is her refusal to produce any music that is not thoroughly and unequivocally her own.
Celebrating the upcoming release of her third album, Spiral, international piano sensation Hiromi Uehara, together with British bassist Tony Grey and Slovakian drummer Martin Valihola, took command of Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley this weekend for a three night pre-release party. Bringing to the stage an awesome display of ingenuity, enthusiasm, and power, all three musicians proved that in an era still too often dominated by genre-bound, cookie-cutter players (and audiences) nostalgic for jazz's "golden age , a generation of artists is emerging from around the globe deftly pushing the music into new arenas of creativity.

Born in Japan, Hiromi began playing piano at age six, and by age 17 had already carved out a national reputation as a classical player and brilliant improviser. However, as prodigious as Hiromi's improvisational skills have proven to be, it is her devoutly eclectic and startlingly mature compositional style that continues to launch her into the forefront of jazz. Beginning with her debut album, Another Mind, and continuing with her follow-up Brain, and now Spiral, Hiromi has charted a blistering path into innovative musical territory. Watching her and her band mates explore this foreign terrain with wild abandon leaves little doubt that Hiromi's career as a powerful new voice has merely just begun.

Beginning with the labyrinthine track "XYZ from Another Mind, Hiromi demonstrated total control of her instrument and a decisive ability to lead a tightly-knit band as they blazed their way through the twists and dynamic turns of the tune. Moving on to the sweeping title track of their new album, followed by the swing and funk based romp "Big Chill , the three musicians laid down an explosion of ideas drawn equally from jazz, funk, classical, fusion and art-rock to paint a frenetic portrait of a fast-forward culture reveling in its own over stimulation.

The set continued with the slightly less frenzied tune "Desert on the Moon , and an extended tongue-in-cheek piece titled "Love and Laughter which established Hiromi's capacity to charm as well as stun, followed by a solo performance of the pastoral "Green Tea Farm dedicated to Hiromi's family. Here, Hiromi took a break from the breathtaking pace of the previous pieces to reveal her other great gift, the ability to evoke subtle emotions without sacrificing any of the steel-infused strength that underlies her every note.

Hiromi then concluded the night with yet another feverish tune titled "Return of the Kung-fu Champion played on both piano and synthesizer. A sequel to a tune from her previous album and dedicated to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, the piece made a fitting conclusion to the night. Outrageously hyperactive, humorous, and sonically embracing a tremendous range of influences, the tune encapsulated Hiromi's penchant for cultural blending and collage, as well as her ability to so seamlessly merge a wide array of source material as to erase all lines of distinction.

Bristling with self-confidence, overflowing with gleeful energy, and possessed of unbridled energy, Hiromi's playing is astonishing to witness. Her greatest strength, however, is her refusal to produce any music that is not thoroughly and unequivocally her own. A daring iconoclast, Hiromi, with the support of her equally talented and committed colleagues, has produced three highly-acclaimed albums without a single cover track, and even more impressive, without a single derivative moment. Where other artists are trapped in a cycle of homage or continue to paste together trite experiments in post-modern reference, Hiromi has used the vast spectrum of modern music's grammar to produce a language of her own conception. In so doing she has succeeded in the rarest of accomplishments—creating a sound.

Photo Credit
Dragan Tasic

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