“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity.”
– Billy Joel
“Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
I remember an English professor at Dalhousie who taught us that if we had a thought that we couldn’t put into words, perhaps we should consider that it wasn’t really a thought. At the time this made perfect sense. But although it was a great way to push us to become better writers, time and experience later taught me that some thoughts and feelings run too deep for words. Nothing illustrates this better than the music of Hiromi.
Pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara famously pointed out that the deepest things are often better said without a voice, and her recordings provide a mountain of evidence. Her compositions and performances draw up audible treasures as if from the bottom of a fairy sea, wonders that awe and fascinate, and yet seem strikingly familiar.
How did she get here? A formidable talent, the best of musical educations, and herculean efforts. Hiromi was born in Shizuoka, Japan in 1979 and began piano studies at the age of 6. By the age of 17 she’d performed with the Czech Philharmonic. She’d also embraced a host of musical styles and genres; her 2003 recording debut was one of the most delicious smorgasbords of late jazz imaginable.
Just a few seconds into the album and You’re blown to the sky?It’s reminiscent of the opening of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme?and it just keeps getting better, every corner turned revealing a new delight.
She doesn’t quite play Winton Marsalis’s “all of jazz,” but I think It’s safe to say she plays every genre That’s emerged since the fifties. Thus we find swing (“Seeker”), barrelhouse (“Spirit”), fusion, bebop (“Player”), prog rock (title track), soul, and perfume-and-rain jazz (“Firefly”), all of it fresh, original, spirited, and expertly executed.
As on her previous album, Voice, there are no voices. She’s again joined by bassist Anthony Jackson (who’s played for Paul Simon, The O?Jays, Steely Dan, and Chick Corea) and drummer Simon Phillips (who’s worked with Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, David Gilmour, and Jack Bruce). These musicians were entirely her choice as opposed to the decision of some recording executive. She confesses to loving bass and you can feel it in her music?how the piano sits on the bass line like a racehorse, steering it while letting it carry her. (don’t miss the great walking bass line on “Player.”)
You get your money’s worth; these are all long tracks and they’re so chockful of joy You’re glad they don’t cut off before Hiromi has exhausted a fair bit of the musical possibilities of the themes She’s set up.
The track titles are all nearly all names of archetypes, e.g. “Wanderer,” “Dreamer,” “Seeker,” and “Player,” so it all sounds like a hero journey. I think Joseph Campbell would say that the golden bowl is floating upstream.
Alive manifests four of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.
– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It stimulates my mind.
– It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
– It makes me want to be a better artist.