Hiromi: Sonicwonderland

In a typically mixed bag from the pianist (who doesn't solo much) trumpeter Adam O'Farrill and a cod Dixieland piece are the standouts


Widely regarded as an outstanding jazz pianist and composer, Hiromi Uehara (now known simply as Hiromi), has long been a prolific and innovative musician. In 1999 she moved from Japan to the United States and studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (tutored by Ahmad Jamal).

Starting in 2003, she released the album Another Mind, followed by 13 studio and seven live albums. These include Spectrum (2019) and Spiral (2005). In 2021 she performed at the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics. The New York Times called her “one of jazz piano’s most brazenly virtuosic players” and commended her ability to create intricate melodies and fuse the several genres of jazz into a coherent whole.

Her latest venture has been the formation of Sonicwonder, an electrified and (heavily) synthesized quartet, with Hiromi playing piano and keyboards accompanying three young performers – Hadrien Feraud on bass, Gene Cove on drums and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill. On the only vocal track (Reminiscence) English vocalist Oli Rockberger (initially sounding like a poor man’s Tom Waits) makes little sense of the banal lyrics.

All nine compositions are by Hiromi, who also produced the album. The results are decidedly uneven. The opener (Wanted) starts with a steady and hypnotic vamp from Hiromi, followed by brisk solos by Feraud, Cove and O’Farrill. The last track (Bonus Stage) is the best on the CD with a cod semi-Dixieland flavour. The pieces in between vary in quality: Sonic Wonderland is particularly hard on the ears with a grating bass solo, but Polaris has an extended trumpet solo from O’Farrill – who is the outstanding presence throughout – given that Hiromi confines herself to brief pianistic appearances. Repeated playing has substantiated these impressions. Feel free to disagree.

What is beyond dispute is the regrettable absence of liner notes, but the inclusion of eye-watering details of such non-essential “intelligence” as the types of “microphones and preamplifiers”, “digital converters” and “interconnecting cables” employed in the enterprise. I couldn’t divine the number of the CD – indistinct even under a magnifier.

Wanted; Sonic Wonderland; Polaris; Go Go; Up; *Reminiscence; Trial And Error; Utopia; Bonus Stage (68.06)
Hiromi (p, kyb); Hadrien Feraud (b); Gene Coye (d); Adam O’Farrill (t); *Oli Rockberger (v). Nicasio, California. 25-28 May, 2023.