Ideas flow by the brimful for Satoko Fujii. If her spate of recordings is not enough evidence, then take a look at the bands she heads. There's the Orchestra East and the Orchestra West (divided between Japan and the USA), the trio with Jim Black and Mark Dresser, her Quartet, and her solo work. You get the picture. Her new venture is with the New York big band, which comes full circle in a dazzling display of composition and improvisation.
Fujii writes with an open mind. The chart is a takeoff point for flights of fancy. As the musicians soar, unfettered and free, they gather atmosphere and imagery to flesh and blood the compositions. The music then falls into a constant state of flux.
The orchestra sets up its "Blueprint" in the uppity call of the horns that sway in, the exuberance then scuttled, before the dawn of a quiet amplitude is gradually carved by Aaron Alexander in a splash of vivid colour and the rumble of Stomu Takeishi's bass. The polarity is all the more pronounced as the horns wail and caterwaul, before melody shunts dissonance and exhilarance is emphatically ushered in again. But trumpeter Herb Robertson and altoist Briggan Krause have different ideas, which they manifest in a slew of flinty lines. "Kioku" has an ethereal air, introduced by Steven Bernstein, his trumpet loquacious in its gentle, shimmering reflections. A whorl of sound displaces the mood; to expect anything else would not be anticipating Fujii.
Quite in contrast to the rest and the most compelling of them all is "Untitled." The buildup is gradual in a piece that could have sprung from Duke Ellington, before the moment is captured and opened delicately by Steven Bernstein, who then punctuates it with the blues. An orchestral romp ignites a duet between Curtis Hasselbring and Andy Lasterjab, question, parry, thrustthe horns then rejoicing before Ellery Eskelin grabs the spotlight and leaps in with a hard-edged solo, the ideas pouring from that horn of plenty. The finale is grand indeed; the orchestra comes together in one fine swell of glorious music.
Fujii delivers. Again.
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Personnel: Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krause--alto sax; Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby--tenor sax; Andy Laster--baritone sax; Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou, Laurie Frink--trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, Joe Fiedler--trombone; Satoko Fujii--piano; Stomu Takeishi--bass; Aaron Alexander--drums