The Japanese pianist multiplied the notes Thursday at the Jazz Festival.
If some still doubt that the 43rd Jazz Festival has started, it’s because they weren’t at the Maisonneuve Theater at Place des Arts on Thursday evening. They would have seen pianist Hiromi deliver another of her electrifying performances, to the delight of an audience eager for the spectacular.
A prolific musician (17 albums in 20 years!), former protege of Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke, the Japanese musician hadn’t been to Montreal since 2017, when she recorded a live album with harpist Edmar Castañeda. This time she was accompanied by the string quartet PUBLIQuartet, to reproduce the essence of her latest album, Silver Lining Suite (2021), a 45-minute concept work inspired by the “difficult period” of confinement.
His mix of jazz and classical music was quite successful. We walk constantly on the border between the two worlds. Hiromi Uehara leads the way, but leaves plenty of room for the chamber orchestra, whose sometimes silky, sometimes frenetic strings add a cinematic side to the compositions.
But it is she, despite everything, who attracts the light. Dressed in a fairly designer white dress, running shoes of the same color, and sporting a slightly crazy bun, she attacks the piano with enthusiasm. His fingers fly over the keyboard, picking, hammering, solid left hand, hyperactive right hand, with total mastery of the instrument.
Hiromi is a virtuoso, in the strictest sense of the word. That is to say, she plays many, many, many notes per minute. It’s impressive. It’s breathtaking. It’s even dizzying, after a while. For references, we vaguely think of Chick Corea, Erroll Garner, Keith Jarrett, Lalo Schifrin; to Liberace, when it flirts with easy listening; and even to Paul McCartney, from whom she takes up the ballad Blackbird.
Is the emotion there? That’s another question. Hiromi borders on perfection, but only seems to know two speeds: explosions of notes and lulls. We search – in vain – for the world of nuances that could exist between these two extremes. We neither see nor hear them.
It doesn’t spoil the fun. The room savors this outstanding performer. This prodigious dexterity. The ovations are numerous. But in the end, it feels a bit like it’s going in circles. We would take it again, but in small doses…