For 2018, the year of her 60th birthday, pianist and composer Satoko Fujii has set herself the task of releasing a CD every month in all sorts of configurations, from solo piano and duos to small groups and orchestras. Her trio, This is It!, is a new group derived from an earlier quartet that featured bassist Todd Nicholson. Nicholson left, leaving behind a trio of Fujii on piano, her husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Takashi Itani on drums which makes its recording debut with this live set.
The trio plays music that often toggles between the abstract and melodic but also glows with color and intensity. "1538," titled after the Celsius temperature at which iron melts, begins as a maelstrom of breezy trumpet noises, trembling piano strings and rumbling percussion and turns into the sort of ominous, doom-laden piano melody Fujii often relies on. On "Prime Number," the three musicians trade staccato notes and hammering phrases that eventually come together into delirious, tipsy group runs. Fujii leads the way on "Climb the Rapids" playing a lighter, wandering melody as Tamura dances prettily alongside her and Itani gently decorates the landscape.
"Riding on the Clouds" begins with tiny trumpet cries and gong strikes that sound like a foghorn trying to help a ship make its way through foggy waters. This motif slowly gathers form and mass until Tamura emerges from it playing a melancholy melody while Fujii creates a thick, resonant backdrop out of slowly-descending piano fragments. Itani starts off "Swoop" with groaning, distorted cymbal and drum kit noises before the other two lurch in playing a prog-rock influenced riff alternating with more drums, now rolling along at full power. That in turn gives way to a spot of clanging piano that develops into a mutated, hiccuping rumba rhythm. "Yozora" ends things along the quiet/loud axis. Tiny, indeterminate hums and whinnies slowly give way to a delicate piano melody. Then Fujii's playing turns louder and harder as Namura and Itani add in soaring trumpet runs and stormy drum playing. It all ends in a prolonged fury of relentless free improv piano runs anchored by nagging chords that eventually tapers off into an optimistic calm, like the sun emerging after a rainstorm.
Each group Satoko Fujii leads sounds a bit different to the others. This is It! resembles some of her earlier quartets but the lack of a bass makes the music sound freer. Tamura's manipulation of his trumpet, producing varied spitting and whooshing noises as well as gorgeous bursts of music, is as amazing as ever while Itani is very good at filling in the cracks and openings left by his bandmates. This trio presents the intense and sometimes scary side of Fujii's music to great effect. This is one of the more impressive of her birthday sets so far.
1538; Prime Number; Climb The Rapids; Riding On the Clouds; Swoops; Yazora.