Another Mind (Telarc) by Hiromi Uehara is the best debut album of 2003. The 24-year old Japanese prodigy storms through a 70-minute take-no-prisoners and fit-no-categories aural assault on boring music. Weaving her way through R&B, rock, avant-garde and straight-ahead jazz, Hiromi doesn’t just defy expectations-she dares you to try and pigeonhole her into neat little categories.
"In the process of composing, it’s a bit like finding a treasure," Hiromi says. "I try to make this interesting. If I can interest myself and my band, then I think this energy can be transmitted to the audience."
Hailing from Shizuoka, Japan, Ms. Uehara was born in 1979 and began piano lessons at age six. She praises her piano teacher, Noriko Hikida with enabling her to go beyond technical terminology and tapping into her emotions.
"Her energy was always so high, and she was so emotional," Hiromi explains. "When she wanted me to play with a certain kind of dynamics, she wouldn’t say it with technical terms. If the piece was something passionate she would say, ‘Play red.’ Or if it was something mellow, she would say, ‘Play blue.’ I could really play from my heart that way, and not just from my ears."
Hiromi would go on to enroll in the Yamaha School of Music. By age 12, she was performing in public and at time with full orchestras.
"When I was 14, I went to Czechoslovakia and played with the Czech Philharmonic," she says. "That was a great experience, to play with such a professional orchestra."
In 1999, Hiromi came to the United States to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and is scheduled to graduate in May 2003. Among her mentors at Berklee is veteran jazz bassist Richard Evans, who teaches arranging and orchestration.
Hiromi says the Berklee experience has further enhanced her musical sensibilities. "It’s expanded so much the way I see music," she says. "Some people dig jazz, some people dig classical music, some people dig rock. Everyone is so concerned about who they like. They always say, ‘This guy is the best,’ or ‘No, this guy is the best.’ But I think everyone is great. I really don’t have any barriers to any time of music. I could listen to everything from metal to classical music to anything else."
She says her list of influences range from Bach to Oscar Peterson to Ahmad Jamal to King Crimson. "Basically, I’m inspired by anyone who has big, big energy. They really come straight to my heart."
Following her graduation, Hiromi looks forward to going on tour this summer promoting Another Mind. "I just want people to come to my show," she says. "There, you can really feel the live energy."
Hiromi’s unique piano styling is a melding of power; grace and passion that displays an astonishing range of mood and emotion. Another Mind was produced by Evans and his friend and collaborator Ahmad Jamal. Jamal has taken a particular interest in the young pianist’s career.
"Hiromi continues to change the musical landscape everywhere she performs," says Jamal, who co-produced Another Mind along with veteran bassist and Berklee professor Richard Evans. "Her music, together with her overwhelming charm and spirit, causes her to soar to unimaginable musical heights. She is nothing short of amazing."
At the tender age of 24, Hiromi has already performed with and won the respect of such pioneers of jazz piano such as Jamal, Chick Corea and Oscar Peterson. Yet it’s her own muse that she is determined to follow and defy any labeling of her music.
"I don’t want to put a name on my music," she says. "Other people can put a name on what I do. It’s just the union of what I’ve been listening to and what I’ve been learning. It has some elements of classical music, it has some rock, it has some jazz, but I don’t want to give it a name."