Since the release of Another Mind, Hiromi Uehara's 2003 debut on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group, the Japanese composer/pianist has electrified audiences and critics on both hemispheres with a creative energy that defies the conventional parameters of jazz and pushes musicianship and composition to unprecedented levels of complexity and sophistication.
The initial buzz – critical and commercial – triggered by Another Mind in North America traveled all the way back to her native Japan, where the album shipped gold (100,000 units) and received the Recording Industry Association of Japan's (RIAJ) Jazz Album of the Year Award. And yet, for as high-impact as Hiromi's debut may have been, it was just the beginning of a fascinating musical journey that has continued to gather momentum in the years since.
Her second release, Brain, won the Horizon Award at the 2004 Surround Music Awards, Swing Journal's New Star Award, Jazz Life's Gold Album, HMV Japan's Best Japanese Jazz Album, and the Japan Music Pen Club's Japanese Artist Award (the JMPC is a classical/jazz journalists club). Brain was also named Album of the Year in Swing Journal's 2005 Readers Poll. In 2006, Hiromi won Best Jazz Act at the Boston Music Awards and the Guinness Jazz Festival's Rising Star Award. She also claimed Jazzman of the Year, Pianist of the Year and Album of the Year in Swing Journal Japan's Readers Poll for her 2006 release, Spiral.She continued her winning streak with the release of Time Control in 2007 and Beyond Standard in 2008. Both releases featured Sonicbloom, her hand-picked supergroup that included guitarist Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski, bassist Tony Grey and drummer Martin Valihora.
Her output in 2009 was extensive. She appeared on Chick Corea's Duet, a two-disc live recording of a performance in Tokyo with pianist and mentor Chick Corea. Released in February on Concord, Duet was a collaboration by two artists from separate generations and cultures who transcend all boundaries to converse with each other with exuberance and passion. She also appeared on bassist Stanley Clarke's Jazz in the Garden, a May release on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. Jazz in the Garden also featured drummer Lenny White, and the synergy resulting from all three of these luminaries made for one of the most refreshing Stanley Clarke recordings in recent years.
In June 2009, she simultaneously released two concert DVDs, both recorded in Tokyo: Hiromi Live in Concert (recorded in December 2005) and Hiromi's Sonicbloom Live in Concert (recorded in December 2007). The former features the rhythm section of Grey and Valihora, while the latter includes Fiuczynski's incendiary fretwork.
Hiromi scaled back to the solo piano setting – but sacrificed none of her innate energy or passion in the process – with A Place To Be. Released in Japan in September 2009 and in the U.S. in January 2010, A Place To Be was a musical travel journal of the many places around the world that have left an indelible impression on her creative sensibilities. Recorded just days before her thirtieth birthday in March 2009, it also represented a personal milestone. "I wanted to record the sound of my twenties for archival purposes," she says. "I felt like the people whom I met on the road during my twenties really helped me develop and mature as a musician and as a person. So in addition to making a record that represented all of these places that have inspired my music, I also wanted it to be a thank-you to those people."
She followed up A Place To Be with a DVD, Hiromi Solo Live at Blue Note New York. Recorded on August 20 and 21, 2010, at the Blue Note in New York City, the video includes 11 originals and a special bonus feature with interview clips and performance footage from some of Hiromi's favorite cities around the world.
On her June 2011 album, Voice, Hiromi sought to capture people's "inner voices" and strove to create what she called a "three-dimensional sound." For that album, she assembled a trio that included herself and two veteran players – contra-bass guitarist Anthony Jackson (Paul Simon, The O'Jays, Steely Dan, Chick Corea) and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, David Gilmour, Jack Bruce). While Hiromi had played with Jackson prior to recording Voice, she had never recorded an entire album with either him or Phillips, who had been recommended to her by legendary bassist Stanley Clarke, a mutual acquaintance.
While on the road, Hiromi started writing music for a follow-up, Move, set for U.S. release March 5, 2013. (European release date is October 2, 2012.) "Because I had been playing with Anthony and Simon for quite a bit, I just started to understand their characteristics, and I could find a hidden gem in their playing," she explains. "There's so much more to their playing. As a composer, I really wanted to write the songs especially for them, and I wanted to extract the unique beauty of their playing."
Recorded by GRAMMY®-winning producer and engineer Michael Bishop at Aire Born Studios in Zionsville, Indiana, Move, like Voice, has an overriding theme, which Hiromi describes as "time in one day." "You wake up and go to work and then hang out," she says. "The album is like a soundtrack for a day."
Born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1979, Hiromi took her first piano lessons at age six. She learned from her earliest piano teacher to tap into the intuitive as well as the technical aspects of music. "Her energy was always so high, and she was so emotional," she says of that first teacher. "When she wanted me to play with a certain kind of dynamics, she wouldn't say it with technical terms. If the piece was something passionate, she would say, 'Play red.' Or if it was something mellow, she would say, 'Play blue.' I could really play from my heart that way, and not just from my ears."
Hiromi came to the United States in 1999 to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, an environment that pushed the limits of her artistic sensibilities even further. "It expanded so much the way I see music," she says. "Some people dig jazz, some people dig classical music, some people dig rock. Everyone is so concerned about who they like. They always say, 'This guy is the best,' 'No, this guy is the best.' But I think everyone is great. I really don't have barriers to any type of music. I could listen to everything from metal to classical music to anything else."
Among her mentors at Berklee was veteran jazz bassist Richard Evans, who teaches arranging and orchestration. Evans co-produced Another Mind with longtime friend and collaborator Ahmad Jamal, who has also taken a personal interest in Hiromi's artistic development. "She is nothing short of amazing," says Jamal. "Her music, together with her overwhelming charm and spirit, causes her to soar to unimaginable musical heights."
"I don't want to put a name on my music," she says. "Other people can put a name on what I do. It's just the union of what I've been listening to and what I've been learning. It has some elements of classical music, it has some rock, it has some jazz, but I don't want to give it a name."