THIS is why we love jazz.
It's exciting to see an artist develop. It's thrilling to hear how self-assured and confident a group of musicians can become when they learn, grow and develop their talents together. It's a joyous and satisfying experience when it all comes together in an burst of aesthetic brilliance.
And that is exactly what Spiral is. This is the album that Hiromi Uehara, the piano prodigy from Japan, has been building to. In 65 minutes and 40 seconds of flawless playing and bold conceptualizing, Hiromi, along with her fellow Berklee-bred musicians, Tony Grey on bass and Martin Valihora on drums charge through what she describes as "three-piece orchestral music." Whatever you want to call it, you'll find this to be astonishingly graceful, driving and accomplished music.
"Spiral" opens the performance (the sound quality is so good you feel like you're in concert hall) as its propulsive, driving melodies enrapt the listener in what John Coltrane once described as "sheets of sound." I don't know if Hiromi was capable of playing like this when she debuted in 2003 with Another Mind. I suspect not because she was excitingly innovative then, she is decidely more confident in her playing now. The virtuoso is still there, but Hiromi is more disciplined and aware of how far she can push the limits before lapsing into overplaying.
The crown jewel of Spiral is the "Music for Three-Piece Orchestra" suite. Almost 30 minutes long the four tracks, "Open Door/Tuning/Prologue," "Deja vu," "Reverse" and "Edge" are sonic illustrations of the depth and growth of the band. Grey extracts some startling Pat Metheney-ish guitar stylings out of his bass on "Deja vu." "Reverse" isn't just a song title. It's how the song is played by Hiromi's driving piano lines and Valihora's pulsating drumming.
The splendid "Love and Laughter" and the kinetic "Return of Kung-fu World Champion" are homages to Ahmad Jamal, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. How's that for an eclectic list of influences!
It's albums like this that make being a jazz critic fun. Without hesitation, I would recommend Hiromi's Spiral to anyone who isn't afraid of music that is enjoyable, inspired, innovative and constantly demanding your attention. Hiromi Uehara is one of the most dynamic musicians on the scene today and she deserves both critical acclaim and commercial success. I'm charged up and eagerly anticipating the next step in her sonic journey.