Review Summary: The kind of album the phrase "modern classic" was made for.
There’s something so mesmerizing about watching Hiromi Uehara perform live. She’s one hell of a disciplined and articulate piano player, but the way her energy and spirit translate to the stage is what really makes her shine. The giddy smile she has, the eccentric movements of her fingers on the keys, and the way she casually performs such acrobatic feats of piano wizardry as if it were second nature… it’s all entrancing. Then again, I suppose being discovered by Chick Corea as a teenager could put a smile on a musician’s face with ease. Mr. Corea found Hiromi at age 17 and invited her to play at his next concert with him, which undoubtedly heightened her profile in the jazz world. But, as her many projects have proven, she’s much more than just another face in the sea of jazz pianists making a name for themselves. No, this virtuoso has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, and nowhere are they more apparent (at least to this reviewer) than on Alive
, her third album in the Trio Project.
Going back to what I said about Hiromi’s spirit in a live setting, that same spirit absolutely translates to the studio on Alive
. The playing is often highly precise and tight, but as the pianist whirls around the backing band on the ivories, each influence and layer unfolds slowly and delicately. One minute we’re listening to the free jazz powerhouse of “Player,” with its wildly shifting tempos and rhythms, but then we get a track like “Warrior” that plays out as a delicious pairing of jazz fusion and progressive rock. We also get a decent helping of classical (particularly romantic-era) to even things out, especially on the intimate balladry of “Firefly.” To say Hiromi’s playing has personality is an understatement, and the sense of atmosphere she brings to Alive
is one of the biggest reasons to listen to it. Opening title track “Alive” is an amazing way to reveal her compositional and instrumental talents, storming in as a powerful statement of intent with its flashy piano runs and drum rolls. Once the proverbial smoke clears, the precision and sense of dynamics displayed by the trio is incredibly palpable. Even at nine minutes, the tune never feels like a drag to get through. But more importantly, it basically serves as an all-encompassing taste of what you’ll hear throughout the album.
Speaking of the trio, the two other musicians are fantastic as well. Anthony Jackson (bass) and Simon Phillips (drums) are a phenomenal fit to round out the group, playing complex motifs and chord progressions as tightly and neatly as they can. And yet, much like Hiromi, you can hear a ton of personality in their performances. I love when solos and jam sessions play out like miniature conversations akin to bickering with one another, and jazz is often quite loaded with these moments. Just listen to the slow rolling bass of “Player,” for instance. It sounds mischievous and almost sleazy combined with the subtle drumwork in the background, and the wacky piano licks provide an amazing counterpoint to the slow, lumbering bass lines beneath. These guys can also adapt to different moods and atmospheres incredibly well, such as when the energetic title track is succeeded by a much more subtle and understated tune like Wanderer. The song still has its flashy moments, but the overall feel is much more plaintive and melancholic, even down to how the fast piano and bass runs are executed. It often plays out like a jazz/classical mix, and the trio as a whole is incredibly adept at switching between the genres at will. With songs like “Wanderer” and “Warrior” in particular, it’s pretty amazing how well beauty and technicality collide on Alive
As of this point, Hiromi’s been involved in a ton of projects. I could go on for hours about how influential she is in both her home country and the jazz world, as well as the fact that she’s performed with big names like Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Japanese pop legend Akiko Yano. But if you want an amazing index of what Hiromi Uehara is all about, Alive
is a wonderful way to get acquainted with her work. It’s the kind of album that displays just how much weight and power her work has in the world of jazz fusion, and it’s still among my favorite albums in that very genre. If you have even the slightest bit of interest in jazz or even progressive rock, this is a fantastic one to pick up.