Album Title: Beyond Standard
Performer: Hiromi's Sonicbloom
Label: Telarc
Playing time: 59’58”
Recorded: Live in the studio direct to DSD - New York - January 2008.


The latest outing and fifth Telarc release from Hiromi Uehara is a very special album. First off, the Japanese pianist delivers her first collection of standards to no longer be her own compositions even if Hiromi's renditions of classics like Duke Ellington's “Caravan” and Rodgers and Hammerstein's “My Favorite Things” are not entirely by the book. Second, Uehara experiments even more with sound than before and Telarc's engineers seem to have labored hard to capture her enormous live presence.

The sonic hysteria goes so far that Beyond Standard becomes a true torture instrument for every audio system. None of Hiromi's productions can be considered as a gentle gift for hifi gear but this last one goes to extremes. Beware! Bandwidth is colossal and the sound is amazingly heavy and dynamic. This sort of recording focuses on the live atmosphere. You will always have a sense of aural unity, of musicians having been recorded together "in the act".


Beyond Standard is pure fun. Merely starting off with Jazz standards as a jumping-off place, the Sonicbloomers quickly impose their wild deconstructionism at the crossroad of Jazz and Punk Rock. Is it disrespectful? No, it's just joy of playing together. One obvious characteristic of Hiromi's game is the diversity of musical territories explored. There's no limitation across various genres from Pop, Rock, Electronica, Classical and Avantgarde to of course Jazz.


Beyond Standard is the second album under the name Hiromi's Sonicbloom. The band is driven by the pianist and her guitarist David 'Fuze' Fiuczynski who seems to have added facilities to play with his team mates over the previous Time Control. Beyond Standard follows the same sonic aesthetics but in a more challenging way where nothing is compromised in terms of sounds quality. Some musical fury must have visited during the studio sessions but most of it was fixed on the recording. Beyond Standard kicks off with a quick introduction that includes a scratching vinyl record. The music is an extension of Hirom's original tune "Time's Up," the final track of the Time Control album. Right after these funny 29 seconds, the sound explodes. Hiromi establishes immediately not to expect conventional interpretations of tired old jazz standards

"Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” is pure Asian drama, the dialogue between piano and guitar efficient. Uehara and Fiuczynski are clearly a few steps ahead over Time Control's level of performance. The back beat of bass and drums perfectly serve the two leaders' game. Debussy's “Clair de Lune” defies any attempts at categorizing the band. “No limits” is the buzz phrase of the Sonicbloomers. Hiromi's rendition of “Caravan” is absolutely amazing in its modernity and rhythm, a slight of hand between madness and enjoyment. It seems perfectly sensible to hear it this way now as it made sense to play the original orchestration in the fifties. Perhaps Duke Ellington would have played Hiromi's rendition today himself?

"Ue Wo Muite Aruko" (known in the US as “Sukiyaki”) is the only Japanese Pop song to have successfully migrated to the American charts in the early 60s. Uehara takes this still popular song and turns it into a swinging funk mix. On “My favorite things”, she demonstrates her ability to capture the essence of Jazz standards and hones in straight to the jugular of the thematic. It reminds me of Chick Corea playing “Autumn Leaves” with  his Akoustic Band. Listening to that CD while seated in front of my piano, I was unable to play a single note. The musical score no longer made sense..


Paying homage to the legendary Jeff Beck, Sonicbloom covers "Led Boots" with deep involvement in the perfect Jazz/Rock idiom. Considering the staff on stage hot enough, Hiromi's follows with a standard of her own, "XYZ" rebadged "XYG" for the occasion (and perhaps to underline the active role of guitar). Punk or Avantgarde? Or perhaps a daring hybrid? The journey finishes with a superb and fast take of “I've got rhythm” and finally puts an end to this fantastic one-hour delight with an emotive glance at Oscar Peterson.

Hiromi's performance evokes a Japanese way of perfectionism. When she plays, she always questions how it can be improved. Someone said “Hiromi's Sonicbloom is a shot of adrenalin for tired musical tastes” and no doubt it is. A few Jazz artists continue to explore new directions and sounds and surely Hiromi is one of them. Considering music a living material that's genetically enriched by a composer's contributing genius, Hiromi brings new blood to Jazz with ever more radiant and innovative musical pieces.

The energetic live performance of Sonicbloom's pianist exceeds all previous limits. The virtuoso technique of the late Don Pullen was really impressive but with Hiromi Uehara, one quickly runs out of superlatives. When Chick Corea toured with old partners in the new revival of Return to Forever, the legendary master did not surpass what Hiromi delivers today under Sonicbloom. To illustrate the huge quantity of energy spent by the pianist on the live stage, I could tell you that during one of her first performances in Paris, she had some technical problems during the short but intense performance. The technical staff of the Parisian Jazz club “Le Duc des Lombards” was not prepared for the performer's wildness and did not pay sufficient attention  to the keyboards' racks. You saw above what finally happened during that night...


For this perfect achievement combining musical diversity and sheer joy of playing, I present my first Blue Moon Award. For Japanese imports addicts, I should add that the Japanese edition includes the Japan-only bonus track "Return Of Kung-fu World Champion" which was recorded live in December 2007 at the International Forum. I should also test the SACD multi channel format layer which should be tremendous but haven't done so yet...