Hiromi's Sonicbloom | 11.14 | Tel Aviv

Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach

Hiromi's Sonicbloom :: 11.14.09 :: Hangar 11 :: Tel Aviv, Israel

Hiromi Uehara by Muga Miyahara
As if there aren't enough things being exported out of Japan these days. It's no surprise, of course, given that the Japanese have a habit of taking things invented by Americans and making them smaller, better, and more efficient. First it was cars, then electronics, and now jazz. Hiromi Uehara certainly is small (standing at no more than five feet), certainly is efficient, and certainly is better than just about any contemporary American jazz pianist. In a genre increasingly dominated by aging titans, the youthful Hiromi, with her ingenious compositions and astounding virtuosity, is at the outer limits of what jazz fusion is capable of. Leave it to the Japanese to take the only true American art form and bring it to a whole other level.

Japanese exports, of course, can be found all over the world, and Hiromi is no exception. Currently in the midst of a world tour, Hiromi made her lone stop in the Middle East en route to her homeland. Putting all political and ideological persuasions aside, Israel can actually be quite a fun place. In only a few short decades Israel has become a bustling economic and cultural center, with Tel Aviv at its heart. The perilous war-zone that the media often makes it out to be is hardly the reality for most Israelis, especially in Tel Aviv, the city with the country's most exciting nightlife. It's no wonder then that this would make for Hiromi's third trip here.

Inside Hangar 11, one of the few venues that regularly draws international artists, they had just finished wiping the blood off the floor from the previous week's Opeth concert to replace the mosh pit with rows of chairs for the more 'formal' jazz exhibition that was about to take place. A futile gesture given that most of the show found the audience incapable of staying seated. When this cute little morsel of a human being first took the stage, dressed like a doll in her brightly colored dress with a black flower obscured in her hair, smile unremittingly plastered to her face, it was hard to imagine the onslaught of notes and sheer energy that we were about to be drenched in.

Hiromi's Sonicbloom :: 11.14 :: Israel from hiromiuehara.com/blog
A humorous Gershwin-esque improvisation from the solitary Hiromi started off the show before the rest of the band joined in on the fusion-y goodness. Englishman Tony Grey (bass) was quick to steal the spotlight, plucking out a lush solo on his five-string while his bandleader buttressed him with colorful chords. Hiromi's current group, Sonicbloom, proved a perfect compliment for the pianist, with her set largely comprised of songs from their latest release, Beyond Standard. As a single unit the quartet moved with effortless rapidity from old-school swinging jazz beats to raucous rock beats to Latin grooves to spacey drifting to intricate melodic lines played in unison. Hiromi's Sonicbloom can really bloom into just about anything it wants to at any given moment. Much like her mentor Chick Corea, her compositions are a fusion of not just straight ahead jazz, but also of rock, electronic, progressive, and even classical music. At times the quartet sounded an awful lot like Corea's Return to Forever (which is familiar ground for Hiromi, fresh off a brief stint playing with that band's rhythm section in the Stanley Clarke Trio). It's not just her compositions but also her playing that Corea has palpably influenced. Both Corea's fusion of acoustic piano and synthesizer (an instrument he practically introduced to the jazz world) and his highly virtuosic style of flying through a flash of improvised notes at remarkable speeds have been absorbed in Hiromi's playing.

It's more than just her speed though that makes Hiromi such an amazing musician, it's her expressive abilities that really make her unique. Her deranged, dissonant improvisations still maintained a high degree of melodic form, giving her playing a kind of thematic aura. In her own arrangement of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic "My Favorite Things," she filled in the silent abysses that buffered torrents of notes with just one or two delicately placed notes that seem to convey as much if not more than the innumerable notes surrounding them. "My Favorite Things" was also a display of Hiromi's arrangement skills, as the song evolved from its show tune roots to an upbeat fusion piece with an impetuous drum solo from Brazilian Mauricio Zottarelli.

Hiromi's Sonicbloom :: 11.14 :: Israel from hiromiuehara.com/blog
Hiromi's take on Jeff Beck's "Led Boots" might very well have been the highlight of the evening. Taking Beck's funked-up ditty and re-harmonizing the melody to give it a much jazzier feel built on top of a much faster tempo, this arrangement was hardly reminiscent of the original, particularly during the extended jams. Hiromi's cybertronic synthetic madness shrouded the familiar melody taken by John Shannon's guitar. In unison her hands dashed across two different keyboards. While Hiromi made minced-meat of the original keyboard solo by Max Middleton (who actually composed the song) Shannon's guitar work hardly touched that of Beck's. Not that that's any insult to Shannon; that's kind of like scoring 40 points in a basketball game and then saying Michael Jordan could have done better. Hiromi continued shredding across all three of her synths at impossible speeds over all different types of time signature and chord changes until the song erupted into a virtually exact replica of Beck's version. With a look of complete elation from the song's momentous finish, she shyly said, "Sababa," into the mic, which is Hebrew slang for awesome, eliciting a round of laughter.

With her limited English skills, Hiromi addressed the crowd before dropping into the encore. "I've traveled a lot over the years, so I often ask myself where is my place in the world? But when I come here that question disappears from my head. I've only been to Israel three times, but when I come here I really feel at home (cue requisite chorus of awwww's from the audience). This one is dedicated to you. It's called 'A Place to Be'." "A Place to Be" was an uncharacteristically somber, deeply introspective piece that seemed to unveil the very being of Hiromi, as she sat lonely by her piano, though still sporting that great big smile that simply could not be wiped from her face. Soon Sonicbloom dropped right back into a scrumptious groove, inciting everyone to their feet to end the show with a bang.

Often musical-lay people tend to get lost in the complexity of jazz, but even those who are not quite aficionados could enjoy this blend of energetic jazz fusion. With an uncanny mastery of innumerable genres, ghostly, nimble fingers, and a touch of youthful energy, Hiromi is single-handedly taking jazz into the future. With this gal at the helm, Sonicbloom has become one of the most enjoyable and talented jazz acts out there.

Hiromi tour dates available here.

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[Published on: 11/20/09]

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