Heat Wave is the fourth record released in 2008 featuring the prolific and talented Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. In honor of her 50th birthday, she organized an intensive release schedule, issuing three albums so far on her Libra imprint, including Trace a River with her veteran trio featuring bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, Cloudy Then Sunny with the collective trio Junk Box, as well as appearing on her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's recent Gato Libre album, Kuro.
Ma-Do is Fujii's newest ensemble, specifically chosen to interpret her heavily notated compositions. An intimate acoustic quartet with a vast dynamic range, this line-up lacks the electronic excess of her more rock oriented quartet and eschews the open-ended excursions favored by her longstanding trio in favor of thematically concise improvisations.
Fujii is once again joined by Tamura; from intimate duos to big band settings, their empathetic rapport has developed over the years to virtually telepathic levels. Their rhythm section consists of bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, from Tamura's Gato Libre ensemble and drummer Akira Horikoshi, courtesy of Fujii's Tokyo big band. Fujii regularly breaks the quartet into trio, duo and solo formations, which allows space for her compositions to breathe, as they veer from ghostly serenity to vibrant expressionism.
Fujii's knack for writing infectious harmonic counterpoint, staggered polyrhythms and interlocking arrangements is exemplified by the spirited interplay of the dramatic title track and the pseudo-baroque "Spiral Staircase." A diverse stylist, Fujii's full range of expression, from romantic neo-classicism to strident angularity comes to the fore. A perfect foil, Tamura's own contributions range from mellifluous contours to coarse fragments. Navigating these episodic compositions, the rhythm section alternates between supple accents and funky downbeats.
A wide range of tonal colors are expressed with extended techniques on "Beyond The Horizon" and "Amoeba." On the later tune, Fujii plays directly on the strings of her piano to harp-like effect, Tamura blows ghostly howls and Koreyasu bows sonorous harmonics while Horikoshi scatters scintillating accents, all unified by the specter of a melancholy melody.
"Mosaic" and "The Squall In The Sahara" demonstrate the ensembles dynamic potential, as they build from lush lyricism to harrowing angularity, while the aptly titled "Tornado" summons a vortex of blustery turbulence. The group even embarks on a Middle Eastern travelogue on "Ring A Bell," conjuring exotica-tinged modality.
The lilting anthem "To The Skies" provides a final reminder of Fujii's tuneful capabilities as Koreyasu bows coarse long tones accompanied by Fujii's dulcet piano filigrees while Tamura plies tender refrains, closing the album on a bittersweet note.
Another superlative recording from Satoko Fujii, Heat Wave is a perfect introduction to the work of one of today's most vital composers.
Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Norikatsu Koreyasu: bass; Akira Horikoshi: drums.