Pianist Satoko Fujii refuses to be categorized. (And let me tell you, most jazz reviewers hate that.) Her playing spans the range from tight swing to avant thunder, from experiments inside the piano to tinkering with the blues. For her trio work, she has found worthy companions in exploration. TO West,
her second record with bassist Mark Dresser and Jim Black, continues where 1998's Looking Out the Window
left off. On To West,
Dresser's work ranges from straight-ahead to full-tilt avant-garde, making full use of the tonal capabilities of his instrument. Black, who can be quite colorful in his own right, frequently demonstrates his special skill of being able to turn on a dime and mesh two completely different styles into one seemingly contiguous rhythmic flow.
The title track, which is the centerpiece of the disc, segues from a sparse, overtone-rich introduction into a bell-like statement of melodythen through delicate swinging passages into an eruption of glissandi and clusters, and so on. (Apt comparisons can be made with Don Pullen and Cecil Taylor, though it's hard to ever really pin Fujii down.) The other tracks provide briefer glimpses into all-out free improvisation, funk, and ballad feels. Listening to To West is like making a journey through an expanded world of improvised sound, with Fujii as your guide. She'll take you to a place just long enough to appreciate its inherent color and balance, then skip ahead to a new location. You either follow her or get left behind. At all times, Fujii allows plenty of room for personal expression from her fellow improvisors, so Dresser and Black play a constant game of push-and-pull with the pianist. It's not the kind of music you'd want to play in the background, but for the open-minded listener eager to hear new sounds, To West belongs up there with some of the finest trio records in recent memory.
Personnel: Satoko Fujii, piano; Mark Dresser, bass; Jim Black, drums.