September 2004

Hiromi - Brain
Telarc SACD-63600
Released: 2004

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

With Brain, the second Telarc release by pianist Hiromi Uehara, we are allowed an even further glance into just how much of a chance-taking improviser she is becoming. Hiromi’s adventurous side is more fully documented here, from her straight-ahead jazz roots to her melding of jazz and rock/fusion. She carries it all off quite well because of her abundant skill, impressive technique, and excellent musical ear.

She begins Brain with a jazz/fusion number called "Kung-Fu World Champion," using Anthony Jackson on bass (her main bassist; Tony Grey, appears on five of the eight tracks) and Martin Valihora on drums, that will have you wondering just what else she has up her sleeve. But before you settle in, the first track ends and a very much straight-ahead jazz song, "If…," turns the proceedings around. Brain is full of such surprises. The title track is another example of Hiromi’s far-reaching musical ideas. Here, she begins in a slow, acoustic vein, lulling the listener into a false sense of complacency, then, boom, she raises the excitement level almost to the breaking point. But she never pushes the issue to far and slams on the brakes at exactly the right moment, slowing the song back to its original tempo for a smooth transition into the next one in the queue.

Much of the success of Brain comes from the fact that Hiromi wrote all of the music. Brain is a straight-up trio album with impressive compositions that require the extensive technical abilities of the players. The leader is only a modest 25 years old -- just a baby in the jazz world -- though you’d be hard-pressed to identify her as such just by ear alone.

Telarc’s Michael Bishop recorded this disc and he has done his usual superb job. The multichannel presentation is a mixture of swirling surround sound on the fusion-style numbers, and it uses the rear channels to fill out the illusion of the trio in front of you on the more straight-ahead tracks. The stereo SACD layer is lovely, so if you are multichannel challenged, you’ll still derive much pleasure from your listening time. It improves upon the already outstanding Red Book layer by fleshing out the instruments, as well as the soundstage. On SACD, the instruments also gain an increase in harmonic completeness, and sound fuller and richer than they do on the CD layer. Then there’s the greater feeling of depth afforded by the hi-rez sections. Telarc deserves a ton of credit for going the extra mile in ensuring that all the layers offer buyers everything they could hope for sonically.

Brain is an excellent demonstration of Hiromi’s unique musical vision. She shows off both sides of her personality -- adventurous as well as conservative -- and has created a jazz trio album that does not adhere to the usual standard formula. She’s taken all the elements that have helped in forming her as an artist, and melded them into an album of pure delight. Both this album and this artist deserve our continued attention and support.