SFJazz put together a pretty impressive closing weekend to their spring season that began Friday night at Herbst with a 2 1/2 hour show featuring Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara with David Fiuczynski on guitar, Tony Grey on Bass and Martin Valihora on drums. The back up band hails from the states, England and Brazil, respectively, so the entire line-up brought a few different sensibilities with it to remind one that jazz in no longer a distinctly American musical idiom and hasn't been for a long time.
Uehara is a fireball on the piano who may play faster than anyone I've ever seen, and can play with precision, I didn't hear a lot of emotion in her playing or ever really get a sense of feeling from the pieces, which tended to abruptly shift in time and direction. Since it's her band, she's running things and that was problematic as the songs themselves didn't contain a lot of musical ideas, just a lot of music. I'd like to see this gifted player work with someone else running the show and see how she stretches out and develops within a piece, rather than watch her continuously light a fire over an over only to extinguish the idea before it really starts to burn.
There were also numerous solos from each player, an element of the concert I found taxing. I can't think of a better way to kill the momentum of a show than to stop everything in its tracks for a bass solo, let alone three in a single show. The bass is a rhythm instrument- if you want to play lead, pick up a guitar.
That's not to say that Grey can't play- he's a good musician, as are Valihora and Fiuczynski, but in my mind the four musicians present onstage never gelled together nor succeeded in creating a distinct sound by building off of each other's strengths and making something whole out of the elements. They never came together as an ensemble.
They performed an interesting version of Sukiyaki, but I think next time they should just go whole hog and do a cover of Karn Evil #9. But as friend once pointed out to me, just because one doesn't like what the performers are doing, it doesn't mean what they are doing is necessarily bad, and the audience for this show ate it up and gave the musicians hearty ovations- including after each the numerous solos. So count my opinion as the minority and from someone who would much rather listen to Hendrix than Satriani.
One last note: I heard tonight Uehara will be touring with bassist Stanley Clarke in the near future. Clarke's experience and stature will influence any project he's a part of and will likely give Uehara the breathing room to stretch out. That would definitely be a gig worth attending.