Hiromi-brain_span3
July/August 2004

Hiromi
Brain
Telarc

Hiromi doesn't play jazz. Oh, sure, she plays piano in a jazz trio, which is why you are reading about her new album Brain in JazzTimes. But Hiromi also digs classical, funk, rock and a few other styles, and she can play in all of them. What's more, she doesn't draw lines between those musics when she composes; for example, "Green Tea Farm" combines, with no apparent strain, a classic-style melody, decorous jazz ornamentation and a blue-sky optimism that's pure pop. Hiromi's music doesn't belong so much to any one style as it belongs to her. So what's her music like?

She can jam with the best of them, as on "Kung-Fu World Champion," whose groove Hiromi drives along with cascades of perfectly articulated notes and in-step rhythmic modulations. (Throughout the album, she is well assisted by her trio mates, but this is emphatically Hiromi's sound world.) She likes her synth and can make it sing, using an androidal bleep to portray capital-R reason on the title track and playing with Vocoderesque noises on the slow funk grinder "Keytalk." She can play lyrical, too, as in the aforementioned "Green Tea Farm" (dedicated to her parents, who gave her the last name Uehara) or "Wind Song," where she gradually whips a gentle breeze into a keyboard-spanning storm. Sometimes, she seems more concerned with making a pretty noise than a musical impression, but she does make some awfully pretty noises.

Most impressively, she takes risks and makes them pay off. The best evidence of that here is "Legend of the Purple Valley," which tells an ancient story through slowly evolving melodies and beautifully controlled tone colors. Hiromi's liner notes only tell
part of the tale, but she makes the story come alive enough that anyone can figure out the ending. It's a singular accomplishment for a woman whose virtuosity, energy and adventurousness, even more than her polystylism, make her nothing less than a singular pianist.

Originally published in July/August 2004
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