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Satoko Fujii Orchestra: Blueprint

Dan McClenaghan By

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Japanese-born pianist Satoko Fujii's Blueprint, featuring her New York Orchestra, opens with the title cut, a hard-driving, dark-toned, stop-time tune full of gathering momentum and menace, giving the impression of a world plummeting in the direction of chaos—though it never quite goes there. It's the same feeling one gets in listening to Dumas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," done most famously for the Disney film Fantasia —the sentient brooms relentlessly bringing buckets upon buckets of water, out of control but for their own relentless logic...

Fujii is nothing if not prolific. Blueprint is the fifth album by her New York Orchestra. She also fronts an "East Orchestra" of Japanese musicians, as well as an often explosive quartet and a superb trio featuring bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. The New York Orchestra features such first call players as Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Stomu Takeishi on bass, and Steven Bernstein and Natsuki Tamura on trumpet. The collective sound seems like a mainstream big band filtered through a sonic version of a fun house mirror, with normal (whatever that means; the definition changes when you hear Fujii's bands) harmonies that warp and bend, stretched away from the expected shape while maintaining their recognizability, filled with with solos that veer facinatingly out on odd trajectories, with instruments making noises not usually associated with "music"; or joining in raucous cacophonies—"Anemometer" features an interlude that sounds like sea gulls squabbling; "Ocha!" has the band shouting the title, "Ocha! Ocha!"

Having said that, Blueprint at times feels surpisingly mainstream, with infusions of driving rock beats, swirls of mad colors and sudden interludes of manic horn conversations followed by sudden ninety degree changes in direction.

All that said, I don't think the essence of Fujii has been captured. Words won't do. You have to hear her.

Visit Satoko Fujii on the web.

Track Listing: Blueprint, Ochai, Anemometer, Nagoyanian, Kioku, Untitled

Personnel: Satoko Fujii--piano; Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss--alto sax; Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby--tenor sax; Andy Laster--baritone sax; Natsuki Taura, Herb Robertson, Steven Berstein, Dave Ballou, Lauie Frink--trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring Joey Sellers Joe Fielder--trombone; Stomu Takeishi--bass; Aaron Alexander--drums

Title: Blueprint | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: NatSat Music


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