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Published: 2008/10/27
by Fady Khalil

Beyond Standard – Hiromi


She’s arguably one of the best jamband musicians ever, but you’ve never heard of her, and coincidentally, she’s never heard of you. In fact, the Japanese born, piano virtuoso Hiromi (“don’t call her by her last name”) Uehara has no idea she’s a jamband musician at all. Despite the official branding as a “phenomenon” by the jazz-sphere—spurred by her multi-award winning 2003 album, Another Mind—the twentysomething prodigy remains relatively unknown to the world of jam, unless of course she gets a proper introduction. Enter June 2008’s Beyond Standard.

A collection of nine songs, the album takes well-known jazz standards, and well, goes beyond them. Way beyond them. The best example, "My Favorite Things,” proves a decided departure from the mountainous nanny frolicking of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music classic, instead coming across more akin to a Phish prelude to rock-gasm. Equally attention-grabbing is Juan Tizol’s often-reinvented standard, "Caravan," where Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski’s outrageous guitar experimentation, divined even further by an adrenaline charged piano, creates a kaleidoscope of other-worldly tones. Save a touch of distortion, all sound-warping is indeed man-made.

Cerebral-jazz comes by way of dimensional-shifts of quantum jamming on song “XYG,” a true amalgamation of jazz-rock that could make MMW giddy with fusion bliss. A cover of her own original, “XYZ,” this time around guitar, drums and bass compete against Hiromi’s playfully asymmetric scale-runs, vying for listeners' attention. Keys approach absurd speeds while sustained with metallic precision as contending displays of instrumental prowess repeatedly threaten mutiny, usurping the head-jamstress’ glory. Ultimately squelched, at points the overthrow appears imminent and arguably successful depending on who’s listening.

For those into the whole vocals and lyrics sort of thing, expect this wordless ride to leave you in awe, but not in love. And though to be expected of a collection of jazz standards, having only one Hiromi-original is still a bit of a let down. Rest assured though, she creates as well as she innovates. Martin Valihora’s primal hammerings and Tony Grey’s addictive bass explorations could also have taken center-stage more often for my jamband sensibilities, but the wow-factor of even their supportive role is so complete, a dumbfounded grin comes guaranteed. When you do buy this album, cheer loudly so they know you’re listening.

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