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Settling down in an easy chair and pushing the play button to spin a Satoko Fujii disc is an experience akin to climbing aboard and plunging into a musical version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride: careening along a swerving and uncertain path, jerking into spine-jolting ninety degree turns, dipping, climbing, slowing onto the familiar smooth straightaway, where you're unexpectedly assaulted by jarring phenomena.
This is especially true of her large ensemble work. Before the Dawn features, live in Japan, Fujii's Orchestra East, her all-star Japanese big band (Orchestra West is her Stateside crew), composed of fifteen of her homeland's best improvisors.
Power, exuberance, fierce soloing... a trumpet that sounds like a badger with its foot caught in a steel trap, screaming in front of relatively mainstream harmonics; a baritone sax solo that brings to mind a disgrutled grizzly bear; moments of beauty, serenity, delicacy interspersed with seismic Elvis Costello "Pump it Up" percussion/bass modes that lead into gentle classical harmony. Honks, squeals; raucous and discordant jungle sounds; bird trills and freight trains. Consider all these things, and you still haven't captured the essence of Satoko Fujii's Before the Dawn.
Unpredictable, wildly creative, and uncompromising, Fujii started as a classical musician in her native Japan before the calls of improvisation and jazz asserted themselves. In the past half dozen years she has put out a series of some of the most facinating/challenging/out-there CDs you'll find anywhere, the best of which include Minerva and Vulcan, collaborations with her trumpeter husband, Natsuki Tamura, who is also a member of this Orchestra East.
Fujii is an an absolutely essential listen for anyone interested in the future of jazz.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.