Music Review: Hiromi Uehara

Posted: December 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Hiromi Uehara

Over the past couple of years I”ve been attracted to the progressive sounds of the electric guitar as it has been one of the more defining voices of contemporary jazz in the past couple decades. Lately though, I”ve found myself listening and buying more albums from jazz pianists. Similar to my last jazz review of Rober Glasper, a pianist from the US, today I”m writing about Hiromi Uehara, a pianist from Japan.

At the age of 31, Hiromi is still a toddler in Jazz-years, but her accomplishments already show she will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most accomplished jazz musicians of the modern era. Starting piano at the age of 5 and introduced to jazz at the age of 8, Hiromi played with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 14 and played & recorded with Chick Corea, one of the leading jazz pianists of our time, at the age of 17. Talk about a great start to a career. She went on to study under Ahmad Jamal, another of Jazz Piano”s great”s, while at Berklee. Since 2003, she has been touring the world with her trio, sometimes quartet, and has released 6 albums under her name and 2 DVDs. She”s only 31!!!

There is a reason why she is already so decorated. Listen to her Music. Just listen to it. Every single song an intimate masterpiece in its own right. Thoroughly trained in the Classical tradition, you can the heritage and structured theory in her music. It is almost unbelievable that her sound is only a trio/quartet, when in fact it does often sound like an entire orchestral composition. Her music is colossal. I think it is a pleasurable by-product of those Jazz composers that try to utilize more of their classical roots in their music, very much like Brad Mehldau.

Hiromi still keeps it swinging though. She plays with a ferocity and fire that only comes from a jazz syncopation. But her swing is one that is very rare in the jazz world. While many contemporary jazz greats, like Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Esperanza Spalding, push the boundaries of jazz style, jazz theology, jazz rhetoric, Hiromi pushes the boundaries of jazz”s definition. The only apt metaphor I can think of is from Visual Arts: Hargrove, McBride, Spalding are like Impressionists, Cubists and Surrealists while Hiromi is like an abstract expressionist. The first group explores and redefines the subject matter in new dimensions, while the latter explores the medium itself.
It is such a pleasure to listen to each of Hiromi”s songs. Each one is fundamentally different than the last, in a different paradigm, on a different plane of existence than the last. Hiromi is deeply intrigued by time signatures and musical space. I am guessing this is the direct influence from Ahmad Jamal. Her 2006 album ”Spiral” and 2007 album ”Time Control” are wonderful examples of her exploration in this area.

Hiromi Uehara

Yet, within all of this structural experimentalism, Hiromi is extremely lyrical. I think that is probably what holds all her music together so tightly. She presents to you with a lyrical quest to follow while she challenges you to absorb & engage the redefinitions she places around you. Whenever I play her music, I cannot help but stop whatever else I am doing and just exercise my mind and ears. It is mesmerizing work for both the performer and listener.

One final thought I want to tack onto Hiromi”s post. For all you jazz fans out there, if you have never been to Japan, and Tokyo in particular, GO. It is a jazz lover”s fantasy. I am not totally sure about the clear figures, but Japan represents either the #1 or at the very least the #2 jazz market in the world. Its the reason why so many jazz musicians intentionally build their tours to include Japan when they release a new album. Its the reason why Bluenote jazz clubs, the most successful jazz club franchise, at one time had 4 jazz clubs in Japan versus only 2 in the US. But what is more important, is the density of jazz and real jazz lovers in Japan. With America, even in New York, jazz competes with so many other native and popular music forms like hip hop, pop, electronica. Europe, while loving jazz has a deep obsession with classical and electronica. But for some reason, and I think it is the Japanese”s attraction to technical excellence and complex hierarchy, they have since the second world war, fallen head over heels for Jazz. While they also deeply cherish Classical and many other musical forms like hip hop and electronica, Jazz has captured a much larger portion of the listener”s ear. And as is typical of Japanese culture, when they like something, they get obsessively passionate, geeky, and hardcore about it. Walking on the streets of Tokyo I can often find boxes of second-hand classic jazz vinyls on sale, or their record shops have huge sections dedicated to jazz. Jazz artists, even those that are minor names in North America, have significant followings in Japan and Jazz concerts in Japan command a higher price-point and sell out more often.

With this kind of incubative atmosphere, is it such a surprise that a musical genius like Hiromi Uehara can be identified at such an early age as a jazz prodigy and be so intentionally cultivated to her extreme level?
Listen to her music. Hear and feel jazz at its most refined.

Hiromi Uehara

*Some of facts about Hiromi”s life were taken from her Wikipedia Page.


Esperanza Spalding @ Gesu – Centre de Creativite, Montreal 7/2/09

Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

esperanza-spalding-08
Day 3 of my jazz week, and I get a second chance at seeing Esperanza Spalding here in Montreal, at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

This time, without a thunderstorm overhead, I am able to fully engage and immerse myself in the music and experience that is, Esperanza.

Esperanza played a balanced mix of songs from her previous two albums and many new songs we can expect will likely show up on her upcoming album (which is supposed to be a hommage to Nina Simone). I had a smile on my face the entire performance. I couldn’t wipe it off even if I tried. I was head-boppin’, foot-stompin’ all the way through.

A few thought-provoking ideas went through my head as I was enjoying the concert:

1) You’re only as good as the musicans you play with:
Esperanza played with a stellar, yet young group including Otis Brown (bass), Ricardo Roach (guitar), Geonese (?) (piano). Keep an eye out for any and all of these musicians, as I am very sure they will all lead very successful and distinguished careers as the leaders of their own jazz groups. With the type of music that Esperanza and many of the younger groups are playing, they require each musician in the group to be fully adaptable and possess many different musical specialties.

2) A glimpse into the New Contemp Jazz direction:
Esperanza is not the only artist playing multiple styles fusion. But different from the type of fusion Miles Davis pioneered (Fusion with instrument, sounds and a heavy influence from the then fresh avant garde/free jazz movement) The new fusion is about fusing different styles of popular music genres into Jazz: Rock-Jazz, Soul-Jazz, Trip hop-Jazz, R&B-Jazz, Hip Hop-Jazz. The contemporary jazz musician like Esperanza (an like Christian Scott or The Bad Plus) are arranging each song as it should be arranged, whether it is a Jazz rhythm line supporting a pop song, or a jazz song in a the context of rock.

2a) Successful players must be masters at a multiple number of different genres:
What this means for all contemporary musicians and those up & coming, is that if these advancing artists are constructing this paradigm, all subsequent jazz musicians will need to master not only jazz, but a number of other genres as well. We will see not only specialists in one instrument or style in Jazz, we will see more musicians who will be specialists in multiple genres to master New Jazz Fusion.

2b) Each song is a different kind of fusion:
No longer will a full album be made to reinforce one jazz genre. As we saw in Esperanza’s second album which had three distinct types of fusion equally represented throughout the album, we’re going to see more musicians have consecutive songs distinctly different from one another. It may alienate some listeners, especially those that only like one kind of style/genre/fusion.
But this type of each-song-stands-on-its-own album fits into the iTunes-style of music selling: Now that music listeners & buyers are purchasing each song at a time, and less and less purchasing whole albums, it allows a listener to choose the type of fusions that are most appealing to them from that one particular artist.

Esperanza’s first album set a foundation that established her firmly as a young-rising talented artist in the jazz arena. Album two threw together a few different styles Esperanza could do to show her verasity. It also helped the record label learn more about which styles are most commercially viable. Now with sneak peeks at some new songs, we have an idea where her next album is going: further into fusion: soul, rock, world-music into jazz.

Esperanza’s show illicited continuous standing ovations from the audience, resulting in two encores.

In the subsequent days after Esperanza’s performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, I saw and read a number of very strong and positive reviews from her performance. But I think the clearest indicator of how successful her performance at the jazz fest was the fact that all of her cds were sold out in every single music store I could find (and I went to all of the stores, my friend wanted to buy the album but we couldn’t find it anywhere).

Bravo to Esperanza Spalding! The highlight of my few days at this year’s Montreal International Jazz Fest.


Music Review: Esperanza Spalding

Posted: December 14th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

I twittered a couple weeks ago that I had a newfound obsession.  And that obsession’s name is Esperanza Spalding.  I’m not kidding. I’m obsessed. She is my most exciting musical find of the year.

Esperanza Spalding has come out with her second album in late 2008, self-titled Esperanza on Heads Up records (her first album was titled Junjo, released only in the US in 2006).  This Berklee-educated, child musical prodigy, first came on my radar through her association with Emmy-nominated Christian Scott, my 2007 find-of-the-year.  I didn’t actively get a chance to explore her sound until this year, but when the very first notes of this latest album touched my ears, I knew I was hooked.

Esperanza Spalding is like the Alicia Keys of the jazz world, but in saying that I might even be discrediting Esperanza a little.  Her mixed heritage is extremely evident in her music.  Each of her songs draw, in varying degrees, influence from Spanish-Salsa, Blues, Flamenco, R&B, Funk, Bossa Nova, Soul and Jazz.  It makes for an intoxicating combination leaving you wanting a few more notes from the last song while simultaneously excited about what the next song will bring.

Esperanza plays double bass and sings lead vocals, which in my opinion is the perfect combination (there is nothing sexier than a hot girl playing funky bass-lines and singing sweet and tantalizing lyrics on top).   She sings in interchangeably fluent English and Spanish, and shows the diversity of her bass skills from song to song.  Cuerpo Y Alma (the Spanish version of Body and Soul) is Esperanza’s only real jazz standard in this album and is a fantastic entry-point for many mainstream jazz listeners.  This and each successive song succinctly shows the breadth of her skills, from her silky vocals, to the mastery of the bass and scatting, to the ‘sounds simple’ but surprisingly complex syncopation.

In addition to Cuerpo Y Alma, I Adore You, Samba Empreludia and Ponta De Areia are all fantastic modern creations fully rooted in the Latin heritage.  Anyone into Bossa Nova and interested in hearing the latest iterations of Latin Jazz must pay attention here.  Because of these songs, I’ve fallen in love all over again with the magic that is Latin Jazz.

If That’s True, Mela, She Got To You and Love In Time, are delivered as fully-formed, hard-hitting contemporary jazz pieces; no doubt a product of her experiences at Berklee and touring with Joe Lovano.  It is in these songs that you can take your time to explore Esperanza’s work on the bass.  It is an immense pleasure to hear a maturing bassist, one that consciously considers the double bass as a leading instrument.  I think as she continues to produce more songs, we’ll have a chance to hear the bass take more of center stage.

The songs on this album that most excite me are Precious, Fall In, Espera and I Know You Know.  Maybe its because I grew up in a predominantly R&B, Funk and Soul environment, but these songs draw off-of and play derivative-to this realm of music.  What Esperanza does in these songs I can only describe as exciting, mesmerizing and just cool.  I’m a little afraid because if she pushes these types of songs too much, she’ll very quickly build a fan-base that only demands this kind of Nu-Jazz/Neo-Soul.  She too easily can own this style of music.  I say I’m afraid because I enjoy her other styles too much to see her pay less attention in developing her other styles.  Songs like Precious and I Know You Know are so tantalizingly that I can see them entering the top mainstream R&B charts.  There is no denying that the way she wraps up jazz in Blues chords and Soul phrasing gets under my skin.

I cannot even begin to comment about her voice. Love it. Love it. She’s already a star as a vocalist, but to be a master bassist as well puts her into the ranks of Brian McKnight, Chet Baker or Stevie Wonder, where you can’t decide whether you like their voice or their instrumental playing better.

Needless to say, I’m hooked.  I’m not only a convert; I’m now and forevermore an evangelist for Esperanza Spalding.  I wait anxiously for her next release, but until that time comes I’ll be playing Esperanza over and over and over…