Hiromi and Sonicbloom: Beyond Standard
By TOM LAVENTURE
(June 17, 2009) – With only three days off between her European and North American tours, renowned Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi says it takes a lot of determination on her technique, but that people keep her going night after night.“The second that I see the audience it is like magic,” said Hiromi. “They just give me so much energy to play, so it is fulfilling and I love that. I really live for live performance. I really enjoy the transformation of the energy and make people happy.”
Hiromi Uehara and her band, Sonicbloom, will return to Minneapolis again next week to play four evening shows at The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, on Sunday, June 21, and Monday, June 22, at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. each evening. Tickets are $20 and $25. Call 612-332-1010.
“I really like the Dakota, it is one of my favorite clubs,” said Hiromi, via telephone from Tokyo. “I really enjoy playing there. I am very glad to be back there.
Hiromi said the Minnesota audience is always very supportive and welcoming and is looking forward to her fifth local appearance.
“It has always been very heartwarming,” she said.
Hiromi is promoting her latest CD, Sonicbloom: Beyond Standard (Telarc), and says the songs continue to show her defiance of being categorized as a jazz pianist.
“For me, I never really felt my music is jazz, I just play music,” said Hiromi. “I am happy if they call it jazz or rock.”
She said it is difficult to define what she does, in part because of her process of invention. To her the word, jazz, means invention, or in the case of Beyond Standard, “a re-creation of things again and again.”
Hiromi said she re-creates favorite songs with true invention rather than interpretation or duplication, and that it comes from studying the history of the songs and composers of many styles and eras to understand how they make her feel.
“I really like listening in a chronological way so that I can understand why this music came after other music,” she said.
The introduction sounds like a 1930s ‘78’ RPM recording of some lively dance joint – complete with dust scratches and imperfections. It is actually Hiromi, using an old analog microphone and an out of tune piano she found in the back of the studio. A little innovation and engineering for effect.
It ushers in the starkly different sound of digital perfection and the complexity of her contemporary sound in “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise.” Yet, while each song is of her own crafting, they are based on familiar tunes such as Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” and even rock with Jeff Beck’s “Led Boots.”
“The reason why I made this record is because I grew up listening to these songs that I really was loving and wanted to make the arrangements to songs that I have been listening to so much for my entire life,” said Hiromi. “I just wanted to do this transformation of the old standards to my versions.”
Hiromi gives her eye opening touch to other classics, such as Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” and catch your breath to the Juan Tizol song “Caravan,” that the Duke Ellington Orchestra made a big hit in its day.
“Ue Wo Muite Aruko” (I Look Up When I Walk) is a Japanese pop song that went No. 1 on the American pop charts in 1963. Whether a Japanese song, or innovating Japanese technique into her music, she said it must be a natural part of the invention process.
“I never purposely tried to put something Japanese into my music, but I never tried to avoid it,” she said.
“My musical creating process is very natural,” she added. “If it is something that people can hear, and say, ‘that is so Japanese’, then it would have come naturally.”
The other songs include “My Favorite Things,” a Rodgers & Hammerstein song from The Sound of Music that was first introduced to jazz repertoire by John Coltrane; and an intense solo piano piece of the Gershwin song, “I Got Rhythm.”
One original Hiromi song, “XYG” is a variation of her original recording on the 2003 CD, “Another Mind.”
Hiromi said she likes to bring the spark and freshness of innovation to the recording studio. They may do many takes of a song but she says it is often the first take that “has the magic.”
“The biggest purity,” she added.
As someone who has had found the transnational barriers in her career challenging, Hiromi said she appreciates that artists from any country possess individual characteristics based on influences and training. She said that tendencies may result from learning within a culture, but there are always exceptions, she added.
“It’s all about how you see things, and its all about when you find some strong characteristics in music, that you say it is so different than other people,” she said. “Then maybe you will feel odd, but if you make it personal then it is personal.”
She said it is “wonderful” to perform in a multicultural band where its strength is of four individuals from all corners of the globe working through perceptual innovations.
With Hiromi as the composer and pianist, Sonicbloom musicians: Tony Grey, a bassist from England; Martin Valihora, a drummer from Brazil, and Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski, a half German, half American guitarist, enhance and complete her amazing energy.
“We just have to negotiate in music and try to find the unity in the band,” she said. “It is very interesting. Sometimes it can be like an earthquake. When you feel settled it is a beautiful feeling. It is like four different parts that are united. It is so beautiful and interesting.”
Two DVDs, “Hiromi Live in Concert”, and “Hiromi’s Sonicbloom Live in Concert”, will be released on June 23, 2009.
“Hiromi Live in Concert” was recorded at the Shinagawa Stellar Ball in Tokyo in December 2005, featuring her original bassist Tony Grey and drummer Martin Valihora.
“Hiromi’s Sonicbloom Live in Concert” was recorded with her new band in December 2007 at the Tokyo International Forum Hall.
Hiromi said fans have requested DVD performances and she liked the idea of another visual element, especially for fans that have not seen her perform live in concert. She described the differences of using the imagination while listening to a CD (that she really enjoys), and visual element of seeing the performers on screen
“Each is very different,” she said.
“The live performance turns out to be the best experience,” she added. “Every day is different. Every performance is different.”
Hiromi has several other projects in the works and plans to release a CD of solo work early next year. She is also featured in a recent duets album with Chick Corea and the Stanley Clarke Trio release. She still wants to keep her band together for future projects.
“At some point in the future we will have other ideas and projects,” she said.
Considered a prodigy, Hiromi began piano at age six in 1985, Shizuoka, Japan. By age 14, she was playing internationally and then studied at Berklee College of Music in 1999.
The transition to the west was not quite what she expected at first. One example of her culture shock was from her early U.S. performances, when she said appreciative patrons would approach her friends after concerts, thanking them for a wonderful show.
“People couldn’t remember my face,” she said. “I never had that problem before when I was in Japan. That was a big shock.”
People remember her face now, however, and in the past six years Hiromi has enjoyed four critically acclaimed albums, numerous collaborative projects and unforgettable performances. Her award winning CDs have gone gold in Japan, and as many honors in the west including Best Jazz Act at the 2006 Boston Music Awards and the Guinness Jazz Festival’s Rising Star Award.