Hiromi Uehara is one of the leading voices on the jazz/fusion music scene today. Her trio, featuring Tony Grey on bass and Martin Valihora on drums, has been working together for about 5 years now and it shows in their high level of communication and interplay thru Hiromi’s music. This level of band cohesiveness is on full display in both of Hirmoi’s two new DVD releases,
“Hiromi: Live In Concert” and “Hiromi’s Sonicbloom: Live In Concert”.
The first of these new DVD’s I watched, “Hiromi’s Sonicbloom: Live In Concert”, is the aforementioned trio performing with guest guitarist David Fiuczynski. The majority of the songs from this live performance are from Hiromi’s 2007 album entitled “Time Control”. I own “Time Control” and had it in pretty heavy listening rotation last summer, so I was very excited to see what a live performance of the material would entail. The compositions and arrangements closely resemble the album versions but there is much more risk taking and room for interplay amongst the group during the solo sections and free form improvisation sections. The biggest surprise for me in watching this DVD was the guitar playing by Fiuczynski. I will admit that when I first heard the album, I was not the biggest fan of his playing. However, after watching this DVD, it is clear that Fiuczynski is the real deal. His soloing is always explorative and original, yet always in the pocket and grooving. Tony and Martin are as tight of a bass player/drummer combo I have heard. Hiromi gives Tony ample solo time and he always makes the most of it, showcasing his unique solo voice. The fifth and sixth songs on the DVD, “Note from the Past” and “Double Personality” are not performed on “Time Control” but keep within the same vibe and overall feel. It was definitely a treat for me as a listener to hear this new material. Next, the program returns back to “Time Control” material with the hard grooving song “Time Out” (my favorite cut from the album). The band is in top form by this point in the concert and is obviously enjoying playing with each other. Fiuczynski even manages to get the notoriously uptight Japanese audience up out of their seats and dancing. The encore is a classic Hiromi tune entitled “Return of the Kung-Fu World Champion”. Originally performed by the trio, this song also greatly benefits from the addition of the guitar. This concert is fusion at it’s best; creative solos, in depth compositions, plenty of energy and four extremely talented musicians equally sharing the spotlight.
The second of the two DVD’s, “Hiromi: Live In Concert”, features the trio on it’s own. This concert features material from Hiromi’s CD “Spiral”. The performance takes on a much different tone from the “Time Control” concert. The band is a little more subdued and the overall feel is more like a classical music performance than a raucous jazz/fusion concert. The band doesn’t waste anytime though, getting right into some interesting interplay with the title track from the CD “Spiral”. The trio setting really gives Tony a chance to shine, both in the sideman role and in more of a leader/soloist role. The second and third tunes more or less share the same feel, sound and structure as many of Hiromi’s other compositions and are not the bands strongest numbers of the night. However, once the band launches into the epic “Music for Three Piece Orchestra” it is obvious they are warmed up and in peak form. This is the highlight of the this concert and it is nothing short of mesmerizing to watch these three musicians perform this extremely challenging music flawlessly. The band nails all four sections of “Music for Three Piece Orchestra” and proves to the listener that these are some of the most talented young musicians around today. For the final regular performance of the night the band plays “Love and Laughter”, another grooving tune with the now very distinct Hiromi touch. Just when you think the night is over, they launch into an encore; a blazing Latin version of “Dancando No Paraiso”. It is an appropriate way to end a very riveting concert.
Both of these concerts are filmed very tastefully and the camera work is stellar. The audio seems to be a little on the quite side and really seems to shine thru an external speaker system or a good pair of headphones as opposed to computer speakers.
Hiromi’s trio has seemed to defy the traditional viewpoint that fusion bands cannot work consistently and do not play to large audiences. Both of these concerts are played to sold-out Japanese audiences in huge performance venues. As I mentioned before, this band has been working as a unit for quite awhile now and it really shows on both of these DVD’s. For anybody looking to check out some gripping jazz/fusion, I highly suggest checking out one, or both, of these DVD’s. The musicianship is always showcased maturely and tastefully. The music never dives into the usual fusion “chops-fest” showcase and the compositions are always interesting and at many points, awe inspiring.