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Friday, April 15, 2011

LISTENING POST

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Hiromi Uehara


Among young jazz pianists, Hiromi Uehara has an undeserved reputation for being noncerebral. Because of her bubbly personality and antic stage demeanor, some people see in her a musician who gets by exclusively on instinct and spur-of-the-moment inspiration. For sure, she loves to show off, and her live performances often leave audiences spent and breathless. Several years ago, when she did a series of duo concerts with Chick Corea, there were reports that she almost gave him a heart attack.

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But a lot of her recorded work demonstrates genuine calculation, in particular the music she makes with the prog-rock ensemble Sonic Bloom. As she becomes more assured as a world-class jazz artist, she also seems determined to assert her originality rather than her technique. She wrote all the songs on her new trio album, "Voice," and while they occasionally wander into the muddy terrain of fusion, they retain their melodic distinctiveness even during the improvisational passages. They're true compositions, written with three instruments in mind.

This weekend, Hiromi, as she's known overseas, will play a series of dates in Tokyo, both solo and in collaboration with tap dancer Kazunori Kumagai. As shown on "Place to Be," her only solo piano album so far, she really is spontaneous when no one else is around, opening the record with what sounds like a fingering exercise going off the rails. In most pianist's hands, this sort of thing amounts to little more than technical showboating, but throughout the album she finds ways of putting those amazing chops to good use in the service of boogie-woogie, romantic ballads and even rock 'n' roll. Alone at the piano, she's earned the right to go off the rails occasionally, so you have to wonder what sort of brakes she applies when she's accompanying a tap dancer.

Hiromi Uehara plays solo at Cotton Club ([03] 3215-1555) in Tokyo, April 15-16 (7 and 9:30 p.m.) and April 17 (5 and 8 p.m.); and with Kazunori Kumagai at Blue Note Tokyo ([03] 5485-0088), April 24 (6 and 8:45 p.m.) and April 25-27 (7 and 9:30 p.m.). Tickets 6,300.

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