Hiromi on Hilton Head

A conversation with the jazz pianist

It should come as no surprise that one of pianist Hiromi Uehara's musical obsessions, growing up in Japan, was the British progressive rock outfit King Crimson.

"I learned so much about the instruments that I don't play - such as bass and guitar and drums - from them, and about how they harmonize the guitar and bass lines," Hiromi (first name only, please) says over the phone from her home in Tokyo. "I didn't know a guitar could sound like that."

Hiromi is a jazz musician who blithely ignores borders. Sometimes her rich, textured compositions sail and bop along like classic piano-trio jazz, other times they thrust and parry with the dynamic, theatrical force of electric fusion.

"Explosive" is the word critics most commonly use to describe her live shows. Hiromi brings her band, Sonicbloom, to the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina May 18. The quartet includes guitarist David Fiuczynski, founder of the jazz/rock fusion group Screaming Headless Torsos.

"I was always fascinated by guitar players, such as (King Crimson founder) Robert Fripp," Hiromi explains. "I'm a big Zappa fan. And also Jeff Beck. I just love the sound, and I love the shape of the instrument. I loved everything about it."

A graduate of the Berklee School of Music, where she studied orchestration, the 30-year-old Hiromi is a protégé of Corea's, who recorded a live CD with her, "Duet," in 2008.

And released just this week is "Jazz in the Garden," a new album credited to the Stanley Clarke Trio With Hiromi and Lenny White.

The latest Sonicbloom album is "Beyond Standard," a collection of pieces by other writers - everyone to Rodgers & Hammerstein ("My Favorite Things") to Hiromi's high school guitar hero, Jeff Beck ("Led Boots").

"Beyond Standard" is Hiromi's fifth album. Prior to this, she'd written everything herself. "I started to think about what the word ‘standard' means," she says. "It can be the songs that I've been listening to, and playing, for many years. That's my standard. So that's why I named it ‘Beyond Standard,' because it's not jazz standards only.

"I think I first heard ‘Clair de Lune' when I was 7 or 8, and since then I've been re-harmonizing it, every time I play it. So I have a thousand different harmonized versions of it."

One of the album's most complex - and satisfying - arrangements is the Japanese folk song "Ue Wo Muite Aruko." In 1963, it was a No. 1 hit in America for singer Kyu Sakamoto - under the name "Sukiyaki."

"It's one of my favorite pieces," Hiromi says. "I grew up listening to the song, and I was so shocked when I found out that it was called ‘Sukiyaki' in the U.S. Because sukiyaki is the name of a food. The original title means ‘Let's Look Up So That Tears Won't Fall.' It a song meant to cheer up someone who's having a very hard time.

"It's almost as shocking as if you were to come to Japan and find that ‘Amazing Grace' is known as ‘Hot Dog.'"

 Hiromi’s Sonicbloom

Where: Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head

When: 8 p.m. Monday, May 18

Cost: $44

Info: artshhi.com, 888/860-2787


About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.
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