Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii's new improvisational trio, Junk Box, features the talents of her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, and an extraordinary percussionist, John Hollenbeck. Fujii's diverse, open ended compositions veer from AACM-inspired textural explorations to violent, free rhythmic exchanges, making Fragment full of surprises.
Fujii coined the concept for this trio, "com-impro": composed improvisation. The pre-written sections of this partially arranged music are not traditionally notatedrather, words and graphic notation are used. Despite the cerebral forms at the foundation of the trio's excursions, it does not result in overly austere music. "Your Neighbors" features humorous quotes from Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Johnny Mandel, all blended into a morass of fitful abstraction, sprightly march rhythms and pedestrian rock and roll patterns.
Fujii's pseudo-classical pianism is a delight. Her forceful, modulated arpeggios on "Ants Are Crossing the Highway" provide an intricate rhythmic structure over which Tamura can blast his smeary, Lester Bowie-meets-Cootie Williams gurgles and gutbucket skronk to the heavens, while Hollenbeck furiously pummels the skins.
"Getting Lost On Snowy Day" is the inverse and a more typical piece: a cautious, sonic meditation on sound and space. Fujii plays prepared piano with a hollow, resoundingly metallic timbre, Tamura howls ghostly moans through his trumpet, and Hollenbeck conjures distorted, unearthly sci-fi effects.
A stalwart timekeeper for traditionalists like Bob Brookmeyer and Fred Hersch, Hollenbeck's ingenious contributions to his own futuristic Claudia Quintet most closely parallel this sonically diverse and exploratory album. With a fascinating arsenal of sound effects from clattering percussive assaults and tiny accented bell tones to reverberating metallic glisses, his ceaselessly inventive accompaniment is delightful.
Fujii and Tamura have a longstanding partnership to draw from, and Tamura often takes the more tonally expressive lead at the behest of Fujii's emphatic declarations. As lead instigator, Fujii's angular, chordal vamping and kinetic left hand ostinatos provide the basic template for the trio's most dynamic interactions.
Satoko Fujii, who typically traffics in dark, stark impressionism, varies her compositional style here, alternating agitated and vivacious pieces with probing, introspective fare. As a leader of various ensembles from solo to big band, Fujii is a wide-ranging talent. Stepping beyond her notable skills as an arranger, Fragment shines extra light on her singular skills as an improviser in this intimate and rewarding setting.
Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; John Hollenbeck: percussion.