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Hiromi’s SonicBloom

Berklee Performance Center

December 31, 2008 9:30 p.m.

I could say that Hiromi Uehara is one part Santana, one part Robert Fripp, and one part Monk, but it wouldn’t do her justice. Brought up in the Japanese conservatory environment and trained at Berklee (joining in 2003), Hiromi has carved out her distinctive musical niche by marrying her traditional, virtuosic training with an avant-garde flavor.

Her recordings are marketed as jazz, but she has a foot firmly in the progressive/rock family. Her music is above all energetic, effervescent, and exciting, whether that means laying down some swing beat, a funky sixteenth-note drive, or a surreal, unpredictable, textural work. She’s fond of polyphony, rhythmic and melodic complexity, extended improvisation, and she makes it known in her whirlwind performances that take the audience by storm.

Hiromi came back to Boston on First Night (Boston’s New Year’s arts festival) to grace her alma mater and play at the Berklee Performing Arts Center (where she last played in 2003 as a student). She’s always played with the same backing band, her trusted friends Tony Grey (bass) and Martin Valihora (drums). Long-time collaborator Dave Fiuczynski (guitar) was also at the show, adding to the superlative performance with an array of micro-tonal tuned double-neck guitars.

Superb chemistry united the band members: when Hiromi contorts herself, moving fluidly between synthesizer and grand piano, the group follows suit. The show is intensely visual, without the cheap glamour of lights or stage props. The band members’ swift movements and meaningful facial expressions capture the contours of the music.

Memorable pieces from the night included “My Favorite Things,” the Richard Rodgers classic turned jazz classic by John Coltrane, and Hiromi’s own, cartoonish and yet cleverly electrifying student composition “The Tom and Jerry Show.” David Fiuczynski deserves credit, too, for being the only guy I’ve every seen actually use a double-neck guitar the way it was meant to be played.

All in all, an intense night, and a good bookend to a year of jazz.