Jazz Pianist Hiromi Travels Light on Her New Solo Album


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By Tad Hendrickson

About a month ago, I reviewed an Oscar Peterson tribute that took place at Carnegie Hall. It was a night of wonderful music from pianists Kenny Baron, Roger Kellaway and Hiromi Uehara in solo performances. The darling of the night was the Japanese lady who came off as a sort of jazz artist as anime with her funky blouse, sneakers and a ponytail that whipped around as she played. More important, her chops were electrifying for their speed and ingenuity.

Now Hiromi (who uses only her first name as her nom de stage) is poised to see her sixth album, a solo studio effort, come out Jan. 26, titled Place to Be. The album features originals inspired by locations the pianist-composer has visited as well as such unlikely covers as the obscure Louie Bellson tune 'Berne, Baby, Berne!' and the wedding classic 'Pachelbel's Canon.' The music is all over the place here, ranging from bits of salsa to classical flourishes to electrifying stride to romantic balladry, not to mention a ferocious brand of straight-ahead jazz. Typically, these switches seem to happen in split seconds as the mercurial pianist dashes her way through the pieces. And while this would otherwise be annoying, it really just conveys a true sense of wonderment and excitement of discovery that this lone traveler felt as she found inspiration in each new place.

I recently caught up with the pianist via cyberspace to, among other things, get the deets on the album and find out what's up with that Las Vegas suite.

Hendrickson: Jazz is traditionally music based in interaction between players, which means jazz solo albums have a different goal to them. What were the biggest challenges for you in doing this album?

Hiromi: The fact that I could not depend on anyone apart from myself when I am playing was the biggest challenge and thrill. I love taking risks in music, and it really pushed me to go very deep internally and also go very far out -- it is hard to explain.

What inspired you to come up with a travel theme for this album?

When I was about to turn 30, I recorded this piano solo album, as sort of the archival purpose as well, since playing solo piano is one of my lifetime projects and I wanted to capture my sound of 20s. When I thought about my life in my 20s, it was filled with traveling to new places. Then I thought it will reflect the most of myself, as a person and as a pianist.

There is a suite of songs with a Vegas theme. What is it about Las Vegas that so inspires you?

When I was in Vegas, music just did not stop ringing in my head, it was visually so inspiring and I could find so many imaginary stories between people. I could not stop composing and taking musical notes when I was there.

I reviewed the Oscar Peterson tribute. How was that experience for you?

Oscar has been one of my greatest heroes, and I was just so blessed to be part of the show. I felt Oscar attended the show, and I was happy!

You seem to thrive on the energy and excitement inherent in making music. What do you think this says about you as a person?

I am an emotional person, I think. :-) I laugh a lot, I cry sometimes, I don't get angry too often, but I feel emotions all the time. I love people, and I love making people smile through music and also through life. I play music because I love people, and I love communicating with them, and people give me energy and excitement to play.

How would you describe the chemistry between you and Stanley Clarke when you play in his trio?

I am just learning every minute, it is like the great place to learn new things and the history at same time, and I just try to evolve as much as I can.

You played with Chick Corea when you were 17 and now more recently. How were the two experiences different after so much time between them?

I felt I had more things (musical vocabularies) to say recently than when I was 17. My feelings stayed the same, it is always a [situation where] every minute was a learning experience and felt like I was walking through the big library of Chick Corea, and reading the books in there as much as I could.

Here's what our friends at All About Jazz have been up to:

Mickey Roker: You Never Lose the Blues
David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open
Mike Mainieri: Man Behind Bars
Vic Rawlings: Hardball

'Orchestrion,' Pat Metheny
'Forty Fort,' Mostly Other People Do the Killing
'Boca Negra,' Chicago Underground Duo
'Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid,' Charlie Hunter
'About Us,' Mike Reed's People, Places & Things
'In Each Day, Something Good,' Eri Yamamoto

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