After leading a trio, dabbling in a quartet and playing duets, Hiromi Uehara is going it alone.
The young pianist’s sixth album starts off with her trademark virtuosity of fingers flying across the piano keys, creating a burst of notes that often dazzles. Upon looking up the title, “BQE,” I could see what she was aiming for, since I remember as a child all those tiring trips on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. With all but two tracks written by Uehara, she knows what she intends with each song; her liner notes further explain the thinking behind her straightforward titles.
The album is like a short story collection written by a skilled author who can bend the instrument to her will and pull the chords just right to stir emotions. Far from being a showcase of her deftness on piano, the strongest pieces are usually in a slow tempo. “Somewhere” shows a lightness of touch that draws out a wistful, plaintive melody with occasional improvisational flourishes. Her take on Pachelbel’s Canon starts as if it were a classical piano recital, but she plays around with the tune so effortlessly that I wondered why no one else had thought of improvising the piece before.
One nonsolo piece appears as a bonus track on the Japanese versions, with singer-songwriter Akiko Yano providing vocals.
The track that combines all of Uehara’s best skills is “Island Azores,” an arresting song that shows her creativity meld perfectly with a well-crafted melody. Her music — it would be an injustice to classify it — may not be for all ears, but she rewards listeners with a playful passion that is beyond words.
As a soloist, Uehara is at the place where she should be.