The pianist Hiromi Uehara — she goes by just Hiromi — was speaking on the phone from Japan, but she was only in Tokyo to perform. She is originally from Shizuoka, a small city located between Osaka and Tokyo, but she now lives in New York.
Although she was performing in Tokyo at the Blue Note with fellow jazz player Chick Corea, whom she met when she was a teenager in Japan, she spends most of her time either in the Big Apple or traveling around the world, playing her music.
Sometimes all of this makes her feel a bit disconnected. One of the reasons Hiromi named her latest record “Time Control” (Telarc) is that she sometimes feel that time is controlling her, rather than the other way around. “My life is basically being controlled by time,” she says. “I am always feeling jet lagged, because I am always moving from city to city, from time zone to time zone. I don’t often get to sleep in the same bed more than a couple of nights in a row, and I don’t get to sleep at home much at all. I wanted a chance, through my music, to control time for once.”
Hiromi will perform on Friday, October 12, at Peddie School’s Mount-Burke Theater in Hightstown. She will appear with drummer Martin Valihora (from the Czech Republic), bassist Tony Grey (from England) and guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski (born in New Jersey, raised in Germany), the same ensemble, Sonicboom, that worked on “Time Control.” The show begins at 8 p.m., but the band will sit down for a pre-concert chat at 7 p.m.
Hiromi is an energetic 28-year-old with large, expressive eyes and a propensity for creative hairstyles — at a show in Philadelphia last year, she looked suspiciously like Pebbles Flintstone. That night at the now-gone, lamented Zanzibar Blue, she had a fascinating exchange with Valihora; the intensity and facial expression of Hiromi gave the impression that the two were having a musician spat but the song ultimately became a substantially well-developed composition that seemed to come from an improvisational battle.
During her compositions and improvisations alike, you get the impression that each note she writes and dreams up spontaneously is meant to paint a picture. Indeed, her first piano teacher in her Japanese hometown told her to imagine colors when she played — “play this blue” or “play this red.”
“When I compose songs, I see images,” says Hiromi. “Probably what I see is not necessarily what others may see but I want you to see visual images when you hear my music; the song always conveys a message that is a visual message.” Although Hiromi’s music has deep international flavor, and does not usually incorporate Japanese traditional or popular music in her compositions, anyone who has spent any extended amount of time in Japan could say there is definitely something Japanese that comes out in her sound.
Her new disc, recorded in Nashville in fall, 2006, features nine original compositions. Each contains a reference to time, such as “Time Out,” “Time Flies,” and, of course, the last song on the disc, “Time’s Up.”
For “Time Control,” Hiromi sought out Fiuczynski, the leader of the fusion ensemble Screaming Headless Torsos, because she wanted to incorporate his hard edge and creative attitude. “I like to take risks in music,” she says. “I thought, OK, I was doing the same trio for years, and it has developed into a very good triangle. But it was too safe. I wanted to bring something in that was strong and spicy, something that would break the triangle a little bit. I thought Fuze could be the one.”
Fiuczynski, whose parents and siblings live in the Princeton area, will have a family contingent at the Peddie show, Hiromi says.
The daughter of a bank executive and stay-at-home mom, Hiromi grew up in Shizuoka, a city of 700,000 people. She describes the prefecture as “rural,” and she says she was six years old when her mother decided to enroll her in piano lessons. She lucked out. Her first teacher was a jazz lover whose extensive collection included lots of Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and other American jazz musicians.
“I instantly fell in love with the piano,” says Hiromi, who notes that neither her parents nor her brother, who is now a newspaper reporter, are musical.
When she was 17, Hiromi says, she had gone to the Yamaha facility in Tokyo to take some lessons, and Corea was there performing and giving master classes. Hiromi insisted on meeting Corea, and he asked her to play. He was so impressed that he insisted she play some improvisations with him at his concert that night.
She later worked as a jingle writer for Japanese companies but in 1999 she came to the United States to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. Through her association with arranger and bassist Richard Evans, who taught arranging at the school, she met Ahmad Jamal, who helped Evans produce her first album, “Another Mind” (2003).
It was these connections Hiromi made with teachers and students alike that were the most important education she got at the school. “I think it was just great to meet people — this mature society of the jazz world — and make connections. As you know, in any pursuit of life or business, it is all about who you know, the connections you have made. I have run into so many people I went to school with or who taught there at festivals.”
She has since recorded three other albums, “Brain and Spiral,” and of course “Time Control.” Her next record will be a live recording of her gigs in Tokyo with Corea. Outside of musical influence, says Hiromi, the approach Corea has to life has inspired her as well. “I learned from him how to be a great person as well as a great musician. How to be happy, how to always be in pursuit of something, how to always look to find something fresh, how to always live life with a smile.”
And it is her music — and music itself — that gives the often-tired Hiromi the strength to go on. “Yes, the traveling part is hard, but seeing all the happy faces at the concerts gives me the energy to travel again,” says Hiromi. “That is the reward I get from all this traveling.”
Hiromi’s Sonic Bloom, Friday, October 12, 8 p.m. CAPPS, Mount-Burke Theater, Peddie School, Hightstown, Concert with Japanese jazz pianist and composer Hiromi. Pre-concert chat with the artist at 7 p.m. $20. 609-490-7550.