Hiromi UEHARA – Brain 2004

Hiromi UEHARA – Brain 2004
Recorded at The Sound Kitchen, Franklin, Tennessee in December 2003


As an artist, Hiromi has grown by leaps and bounds since her remarkable debut, Another Mind. For one thing, this disc has a much less obviously virtuoso feel; it’s as if she’s realized she has nothing to prove, and just sets about displaying her pianistic and compositional genius in settings that naturally reveal her prodigal talent.

Moreover, there’s a kind of cool disdain for jazz orthodoxy–not that she can’t play “in the Tradition” when she wants to; she just usually doesn’t want to.

Along with groups like The Bad Plus, EST, and The Frank Kimbrough Trio, she stretches the understand of piano jazz into new and unlikely vicinities, injecting some much-needed life into this venerable form: funk (“Kung Fu World Champion,” with its plugged-in bass stylings, stunning drumming, and very hip percussive piano stylings), gorgeous neo-pop jazz (“If . . . ,” which just dances and frolics with abandon), Oriental-feel jazz (“Wind Song,” perhaps my favorite number with its shifting melody and stunning solo), electronica (“Brain,” the brilliant and darkly perverse title cut, with its rhythmic insistence and computeresque bass stylings), neo-Brazilian (“Dancing on the Moon,” perhaps the most “straight-ahead” jazz number, where she sounds like she’s channeling early Keith Jarrett), sheerly gorgeous jazz (“Green Tea Room,” with its faux-Oriental, ravishingly romantic vibe), Steely Danish, out-atmospheric funkified jazz-pop (“Keytalk,” surely the most outrageously, impressively stylized number in the bunch, featuring the extroverted, expressivistic bass renderings of the entirely remarkable Tony Grey), and the closest thing to traditional jazz trio understandings, “Legend of the Purple Valley,” which, nevertheless, sounds scarcely like anything you’d hear from a typical jazz trio outing.
By Jan P. Dennis.
Among those artists currently reinventing the jazz piano trio–such as E.S.T. and The Bad Plus–Hiromi is rapidly moving to the forefront. A protégé of Ahmad Jamal who played in duet with Chick Corea when she was 17, Hiromi’s influences are very broad–Beethoven and Debussy somehow align with P-Funk. Part of her success lies in her skill with electronics, evident in the pulsing rhythmic overlays of “Kung-Fu World Champion” or the strange, calliope-like sound that announces the theme of “Brain.” But it’s her consummate piano playing that ties all of the threads together, whether it’s the impressionist-flavored solo of “Green Tea Farm” or the bustling runs and charging interplay that she leads on “Desert of the Moon” with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Martin Valihora. Hiromi practices an art of surprise, touching on video-game tempos and Bill Evans harmonies as she arranges tradition and novelty in fresh configurations.
By Stuart Broomer. AMG.
Japanese pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara dazzled the jazz world with her 2003 debut, Another Mind. Its mash of keyboard pyrotechnics and range of compositional styles was multiplied exponentially by her irrepressible energy. On that set she used variously sized ensembles to articulate her compositions. On Brain, Hiromi strips it back to a trio and offers a more intimate look at her wide musical universe, utilizing drummer Martin Valihora, bassist Tony Grey (both fellow Berklee College of Music alums), and alternately bassist Anthony Jackson. The album opens with the wacky “Kung-Fu World Champion” with its mélange of sequenced keyboards. It’s a fusion tune to be sure, but it’s so kooky and funky that it transcends the label despite its reliance on staggering time signatures and stop-on-air turnarounds and changes. It’s a careening tour de force where electronic keyboards and pianos are layered over a scattershot rhythm that pulls and pushes the deep pocket funk and strafes it with a post-bop sensibility. Grey’s bassing here is so choice, so utterly fluid and physical. But it’s back to jazz on “If…” with Jackson taking the bass chair. It’s a strolling soul-jazz figure, bubbling over a series of chromatically arranged ostinati. Its beauty is crystalline despite all the activity. “Wind Song” is a mid-tempo ballad with beautiful ringing lines in the middle register. Its repetitive figure shifts and shapes an alternate melodic line in the solo. The knottiness of the title track offers a close, scrutinizing view of Hiromi’s mad muse; using her piano to articulate a figure she creates a warped and angular counterpoint with electronic keyboards keeping the rhythm section striating in between, with precise interstitial motifs before the entire cut gives way to a blessed out of minor key prelude on the piano and her rhythm section dancing around the changes in hushed tones. The centerpiece of the set is a stunningly beautiful tune called “Green Tea Farm.” A solo piece, it is pastoral. In sum, Hiromi has built upon her previous effort by stripping down her band and showcasing the less physical but no less ambitious side of her improvisational and compositional flair. Her sound might still be confounding to the purists, but who cares? Hiromi is a jazz pianist for the new century, one whose “yes” to the wealth of musical styles that are available to her is only eclipsed by her ability to work them into a unique whole that bears her signature.
By Thom Jurek. AMG.
Hiromi Uehara- (Piano, Keyboards);
Anthony Jackson, Tony Grey- (Bass);
Martin Valihora- (Drums).
01. Kung-Fu World Champion (6:49)
02. If (7:09)
03. Wind Song (5:40)
04. Brain (8:59)
05. Desert On The Moon (7:04)
06. Green Tea Farm (solo) (4:34)
07. Keytalk (10:02)
08. Legend of the Purple Valley (10:47)

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