Album: Silver Lining Suite
Genre: Contemporary Jazz
01. Silver Lining Suite: Isolation
02. Silver Lining Suite: The Unknown
03. Silver Lining Suite: Drifters
04. Silver Lining Suite: Fortitude
09. Ribera Del Duero
The world’s multi-year experience with COVID has wrought profound changes in the worlds of music. Touring ceased, venues shuttered, and musicians were financially ruined. For those who survived it has not surprisingly become a time and a tangle of emotions to be parsed, worked through and ultimately expressed in music. Written to represent her “emotional journey” through the continuing pandemic, the four-part Silver Lining Suite amply shows that being indoors only inspired a deeper ambition in incredibly gifted pianist Hiromi Uehara. Never easy to pin down or explain, Hiromi’s restless inventiveness, dynamic sense that musical boundaries are artificial, and almost limitless gifts on piano have led her to create music that mixes classical, jazz, rock and anything else that she can think of into an original whole—always led by her vast mastery on the keyboard. Best of all, she is also a prolific composer. Here she leads a string quartet organized by Tatsuo Nishie, concertmaster of the New Japan Philharmonic in a performance of an extended piece she composed while under lockdown. Nishie is joined by violinist Sohei Birmann, violist Meguna Naka, and cellist Wataru Mukai—the latter given the task of playing pizzicato walking bass lines.
While she is most often thought of as a jazz artist, she is at heart a romanticist with a keen sense of pop music and a performer who loves the stage and knows what kind of piano histrionics play well with a crowd. The opening movement “Isolation” sets the tone, which is best described as introspective and not melancholic or downcast. A pulsing repeated chord on both piano and violin quickly breaks down into typical Hiromi, ranging up and down the keyboard with her usual nimble delivery and melodic resourcefulness. While “The Unknown” begins with a rumbling piano line and an urgent, rising figure on violin, and has a certain uneasiness about the way it unfolds, it’s too rhythmically vital to be gloomy or blue. “Drifters,” the Suite’s moody scherzo, opens with a tense violin solo with Hiromi offering deft, thoughtful accompaniment, before the paradigm flips and she goes solo and bluesy, and this section takes on a cocktail jazz hue. The suite’s finale “Fortitude” follows the same pattern with pounded chords sounding like an indomitable heartbeat or perhaps the soul of human endurance leading off before a bluesy jazz section gives way to human handclaps, several rising and falling undulations and the return of the insistent chords. The ending is typically flamboyant, with the pianist charging up and down the keyboard to close this monumental composition. While Silver Lining Suite is Hiromi’s pandemic expression, it’s the absolutely beautiful Hiromi solo composition “Uncertainty” that is the album’s tour de force. A careful, occasionally grandiose exploration, it has an undeniable beauty without the ostentatious flourishes of which she is so fond. Recorded at Toyko’s Studio Tanta by Mick M. Sawaguchi and Kenta Suzuki and mixed with a proprietary REVEAL SDMTM technology (this is the first album Hiromi has ever recorded in Japan), the echoes and resonance of her Yamaha concert grand have real sonic heft and reach. Another worthy chapter in the ever-expanding career of this flashy prodigy turned significant composer.