Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble: Fujin Raijin (2007)
If there is one thing certain in this world, it is that pianist Satoko Fujii will never stop expanding her musical horizons, nor stop amazing the listener. Fujin Raijin is a stupendous, almost terrifying record that shatters any and all expectations during its six tracks.
Min-Yoh is Japanese folk music or folk songs in the way we westerners understand the terms: simplicity in form, scale and structure. Fujii is emphatic, however, not only about the effect this music has on her when she sings or listens to it, but also its power. Power here means not just the depth to which it affects the listener, but the sheer, raw, visceral, animal power, which can almost be fear.
The group Fujii has put together for this project was carefully chosen. Besides her husband and musical partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (who naturally has the same cultural affinity to Min-Yoh as she), Fujii uses the talents of trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and especially electronic accordionist Andrea Parkins, who takes the music to a different place entirely.
The six tracks are arranged so that the two arrangements of Japanese traditional Min-Yoh folk songs surround four Fujii compositions that use the essence of Min-Yoh as their base. Throughout, the connection to the simplicity and directness of folk music is never forgotten, and, regardless of the complexities created, either composed or improvised, that music's soul can always be heard.
The line between the composed and the improvised is extremely unclear, since each track exposes themes, which are developed by improvisation within sections that have sharp edges. There are parts that sound completely free, juxtaposed by sections that are delicately through-composed.
Tamura is magnificent throughout, using techniques ranging from mutes to play-humming to a clarion clearness, and his shrieks are electrifying. One can hear that Hasselbring completely understands both what Min-Yoh is about and what Fujii wants as he solos or plays against Tamura.
Parkins contributions are felt as often as heard, since she many times completes the total sonic landscape with her instrumental and electronic sounds. The music is unimaginable without her.
Standing astride her creation is Fujii, playing a magnificent instrument. Performing with controlled fury, she plays the full range of the piano, crashing its depths and singing its heights, shifting moods, tempi and ranges instantaneously.
The closing traditional track, "Kariboshi Kiriuta," is a beautiful and terrifying summary of the recording. Solo trumpet playing of aching beauty surrounds vocals by Fujii that are hair-raising in their intensity of emotion. When the full band enters, following Fujii by a phrase, the music sounds like wind through trees, and at times Japanese Gregorian Chant when the accordion enters.
The disc ends with a piano crash, which, in itself, is a condensation of the entire record. If any music has the ability to change one's life, this is it, making Fujin Raijin a powerful experience in which to revel.
Track Listing: Itsuki No Komoriuta; Champloo; Shimanto; Slowly and Slowly; Fujin Raijin; Kariboshi Kiriuta.
Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano, vocals; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Andrea Parkins: accordion.