With a discography of forty plus albums featuring ensembles ranging from intimate duos to big bands, pianist Satoko Fujii is one of Japan's most prolific and versatile jazz artists. The fifth record by her long- standing quartet, Bacchus is preceded by the similarly titled Vulcan (Libra, 2001), Minerva (Libra, 2002), Zephyros (Natsat, 2003) and Angelona (Libra, 2005).
Regular members, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, electric bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida once again accompany Fujii, blending straightforward popular music conventions with avant-garde sensibilities. The quartet surges with vivacious electricity, delivering evocative melodies bolstered by complex harmonic counterpoint and expansive dynamics.
Fujii and husband Tamura need little introduction; their numerous collaborations have ranged from quiet acoustic meditations to simmering electric storms. Products of a classical education, Fujii's studies with pianist Paul Bley and Tamura's conservatory training are revealed nonchalantly, deftly integrating bouts of blustery atonality with supple virtuosity.
A rock bassist with a longtime membership in saxophonist Kazutoki Umezu's band, Takeharu Hayakawa employs a broad range of approaches in support of his slinky bass lines. Bright, buoyant thumbed notes on the ebullient "Sunset In Savannah" provide contrast with the fuzzy, overdriven chord bursts and discordant bent tones of "In The Town You Don't See On The Map."
Founder of the Ruins, Japan's foremost avant-prog duo, Tatsuya Yoshida also drums in jazz pianist Masabumi Kikichu's Slash trio. A consummate musician, his percussive volleys are resolute but never overwhelming, tempered with a composer's sense of restraint. His unaccompanied drum solo on "Flying Elephant" is text book perfect, building from spare, colorful variations to a propulsive, thematically concise climax without ever losing momentum.
Fujii weaves numerous styles into her intricate, multi-layered compositions, subtly fusing divergent genres into an organic whole. "In The Town Called Empty" expands the Yiddish-inflected scales of Eastern European folk music with simmering cinematic ambience and dramatic flair. "Waltz For Godzilla" borrows stuttering drum 'n bass rhythms, while the title track alternates passages of riotous frenzy with ominous stillness.
Employing judicious open space, Fujii enhances her elaborate arrangements with preset sections for individual solo cadenzas and intimate pairings, providing spacious clarity in the midst of intense sonic density.
Her lengthy unaccompanied piano solo at the core of "Waltz For Godzilla" resounds with rich neo- classical variations, running from prismatic chord voicings and virtuosic linear runs to brittle, atonal clusters. She shares a rich vein of impressionistic lyricism with Tamura on "Flying Elephant," while he journeys out alone on "Natsu Mae," unleashing sputtering raspberries, ghostly howls and paint-peeling screeches.
Hayakawa and Yoshida also benefit from Fujii's unique arrangements, contributing their own compelling dialogues. Their incisive call and response on the enigmatic "In The Town You Don't See On The Map" is as tight and intuitive as their freewheeling variations on "Sunset In Savannah" are casually empathetic.
Another phenomenal outing from Satoko Fujii's Quartet, Bacchus rewards repeated listening, revealing new layers over time.
Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Takeharu Hayakawa: electric bass; Tatsuya Yoshida: drums.