Place To Be
If you’ve seen Hiromi Uehara in concert, you’ve been waiting for this moment—her first solo album. Hiromi, as she’s known, has released five previous albums under her own name, but on each of them she’s been backed by a modern-fusion group—electric guitar, electric bass, drums—and she plays synthesizer as well as piano. The highlight of virtually every Hiromi show, however, is an unaccompanied piano solo. She plays blindingly fast yet flawlessly. She has a deep affinity for the blues and loves the lower end of the register but isn’t afraid to throw in some dissonant non-chords either. Hell, she’s not afraid to throw in an elbow. You haven’t lived till you’ve heard her version of “I Got Rhythm.”
It’s sheer delight, then, to hear Place to Be, a collection of 12 solos that run the gamut. “Choux a la Crème” is Hiromi at her best: steeped in the blues, with a thumping stride of a left hand, a rapid-fire right, and some contrasting thunks for good measure. (Food seems to be a theme with Hiromi; this album also has a song called “Cape Cod Chips,” a Vince Guaraldi-style tribute to her favorite snack when she was studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.) “BQE,” on the other hand, isn’t blues-based (or food-based) at all—its hectic nature is intended to convey the mania of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway—but it’s equally juicy.
The most intriguing selection is her take on Pachelbel’s Canon. The higher piano strings are treated—how, it’s not clear—so that they approximate a harpsichord. She plays the first run-through straight and then takes liberties that add a gentle bluesy feeling. Throw in her dynamically swinging three-part suite “Viva! Vegas”
and you’ve got the most refreshing solo piano record to come along in some time.