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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Beyond Standard

Telarc CD 83686



1. Intro: Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
2. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
3. Clair de Lune
4. Caravan
5. Ue Wo Muite Aruko
6. My Favourite Things
7. Led Boots
8. XYG
9. I Got Rhythm
Hiromi Uehara - Piano, keyboards
David Fiuczynski - Fretted and fretless guitars
Tony Grey - Bass
Martin Valihora - Drums


The Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara (better known simply as Hiromi) has already established herself as a remarkably deft player, with a technique to commit hara-kiri for. She moved to the USA to study at Berklee College, and was assisted by fellow-pianists Chick Corea and Ahmad Jamal. Her earlier albums mainly featured a trio, in its most recent form completed by British bassist Tony Grey (from Newcastle) and Bratislavan drummer Martin Valihora. But the trio became a quartet with the addition of Dave Fiuczynski, an extrovert guitarist who formerly played with a group called the Screaming Headless Torsoes!

As the CD title suggests, the focus is on jazz standards - a change of direction for Hiromi, whose previous albums have concentrated on her own compositions. The repertoire includes some oddities: a tune (Led Boots) from Jeff Beck's album Wired and a version of Debussy's Clair de Lune, but these are not the most surprising things on the album. The greater surprise is Hiromi's oblique approach to the jazz standards, which you may never have heard played this way before.

For example, Caravan has Fiuczynski's guitar keening and screaming - often sounding like the out-of-tune noise made by a member of Spike Jones's band pretending to play a violin with a tree branch. Thankfully, Hiromi's piano solo is more melodious: playing about with the exotic rhythm before moving into a fast-paced skitter around the keyboard. And her solo version of I Got Rhythm (entitled I've Got Rhythm on the sleeve) starts with vaudevillian ragtime and moves into pensive swing before getting much freer, while keeping the tune audibly present. This track is Hiromi's appropriate tribute to the late Oscar Peterson, another pianist who helped her.

My Favourite Things is also dislocated in Hiromi's interpretation, with some unusual variations in the beat. Tony Grey gets a bass guitar solo, accompanied sympathetically by piano and drums. Hiromi's piano solo is radiantly fluid. Clair de Lune is jazzed up, with Dave's guitar tinkering with the melody. Here and elsewhere, the group has a twinkle in its eye and - frequently - a tongue in its cheek, playing with ironical humour. Ue Wo Muite Aruko (better known as Sukiyaki) is turned into a jazz-rock outing with what may be Scottish overtones! Led Boots is also jazz-rock but in heavier mode, with Fiuczynski thrashing his guitar fiercely - nearer heavy metal than jazz.

The jazz standards in the Great American Songbook have been done to death but Hiromi's group takes a fresh, invigorating look at some of them. The band uses its exceptional technique to explore these tunes without demolishing them. And Hiromi herself is a phenomenal pianist who we will certainly hear much more of.

Tony Augarde


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