How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
With her sixteen-piece New York "West" orchestra, Satoko Fujii explodes with a free spirit and unleashed emotions. Her all-star unit of improvising artists operates cohesively in interpreting adventures for which she determines the mood. The result is a program that ranges from intense and dramatic imagery to contemporary celebrations and placid landscapes.
Fujii leads from the piano, offering key phrases that provide obvious direction. In turn, her partners jump in with responses that may be agitated, languorous, or mellow. Trumpeters Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, and Steven Bernstein can be heard bellowing from the rooftops. Trombonists Joey Sellers and Curtis Hasselbring add emotional turmoil.
Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin wails plaintively on "Nagoyanian" in a solo section that praises the hubbub that surrounds verbal communication from an observer's point of view. Through his fast-moving diatribe, he reveals the passion and understanding that can be transmitted from one to another when common bonds are established. Following Eskelin, in turn, are bassist Stomu Takeishi and baritone saxophonist Andy Laster, who slow things down with a serious series of passionate cries. They and other soloists work together collectively to represent the universality of language when moods can be worn on your shirtsleeve.
Like Duke Ellington, Fujii has designed her program to fit the personality of her all-star band. Each artist is able to share the moods that she establishes at the piano. The orchestra's session remains contemporary, while emphasizing timeless thought processes. From the beginning of time, communication has relied on the sharing of feelings. This is what Satoko Fujii accomplishes by freeing her orchestra to express individually and collectively.