There’s a kind of primal pleasure in watching a slight Asian woman systematically manhandle an array of expensive keyboards onstage. That’s one way to describe watching Hiromi — a jazz-fusion pianist — and her unique approach to music. Call it an attack more than a performance; at times she herself seems surprised by the notes that she pounds out. I’m hard-pressed to come up with comparisons. Maybe Art Tatum, maybe Keith Jarrett. Then again, Hiromi’s thing isn’t really straight-ahead jazz. Hers is a blend of complex rhythms and meters that bop around her classical, jazz, and funk interests. You’d be accurate if you called her a keyboard prodigy, but I see her as more of a jazz rock star.
Hiromi Uehara (she prefers to use her first name only) mastered classical piano as a child and graduated to jazz as a teen after meeting with American jazz icon Chick Corea (she performed and later recorded a project with him). After she turned pro, she wrote jingles in order to pay the bills while she developed her own thing. Expressed on a variety of electronic keyboards, synths, and acoustic pianos, Hiromi pelts a listener with a rush of notes, but she once told a reviewer that it all comes down to one note. “The first note I play is like a key of the day of the concert. That’s the very first thing they hear. The whole message and focus needs to be there.”
Hiromi’s fusion is improvisational, for the most part, even though her latest CD is a collection of cover tunes. She notes a disparate crew of influences: Jeff Beck, King Crimson, Ahmad Jamal. “The hardest thing in music is surprising myself,” she told Keyboard magazine. “And I always like to keep surprising myself.”
HIROMI: Anthology, Saturday, June 20, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. 619-595-0300. $20, $25.