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Satoko Fujii: Cloudy Then Sunny

Budd Kopman By

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Junk Box is the name of another group configuration lead by pianist Satoko Fujii, this time in the form of a trio with her husband and musical compatriot, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, and percussionist extraordinaire John Hollenbeck. Audacious and challenging, Cloudy Then Sunny is their second release following the well-received Fragment (Libra, 2006).

Approaching her fiftieth birthday this year, Fujii continues to explore new sounds and methods of musical communication, always expanding her means of expression and communication. Fujii composes all of the music for Junk Box, but uses a notation she calls "composed improvisation," which includes words and graphics. While musical notation is but the beginning of the performance for any kind of music, the separation between the written and the performed is even greater in jazz. Thus, "Com-Impro" merely carries this concept further, giving more freedom and placing more responsibility on the players.

As with the trio on the simultaneously released Trace A River (Libra, 2008) (Fujii, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black), Fujii has absolute faith in the abilities of her musical partners to take her suggestions and run with them, both individually and as a group.

Since the players are free to play any notes and/or sounds they wish in expressing Fujii's suggestive notation and, furthermore, react to what the others are doing accordingly, Cloudy Then Sunny can be a challenging listen for anyone with preconceptions. However, for those willing to take the trip along with Junk Box, to listen with the same open ears and mind with which the music was created, the rewards are great and the experience liberating.

What is immediately apparent and impressive is the extraordinary range of sounds that Tamura produces from his trumpet, which almost belie the fact that there are no electronics or overdubs. "Chilly Wind" is full of the sounds of the wind whipping through the trees or across the plain, while "Chinese Kitchen" builds to an extremely dense climax as Tamura draws shrieks, moans and screams from his trumpet that seem impossible.

All of the sounds however, not only from Tamura, but also from Fujii as she plucks and scrapes the piano strings or crashes the keys, serve the music, at times more as emotional sound than as melodic music. Hollenbeck is with them for every moment, mostly making emotional percussive sounds rather than providing rhythmic accompaniment.

Although many of the tracks sound like what one would imagine from their titles ("Opera By Rats," "Alligators Running In The Sewers"), Fujii has admitted that many times the pieces are entitled after they are recorded—she says that Tamura is particularly good with finding the right words. "Soldier's Depression" is actually touching and deeply moving and could be considered the "ballad" of the record.

Cloudy Then Sunny has an immediacy and a vibrancy that comes directly from the trio's instantaneous interactions, decisions and choices. Once inside its world, the music is extremely powerful.

Track Listing: Computer Virus; Chilly Wind; Back And Forth; Night Came In Manhattan; Chinese Kitchen; Multiple Personalities; Opera By Rats; Alligators Running In The Sewers; Soldier's Depression; One Equation; Cloudy Then Sunny.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet, toys; Satoko Fujii: piano; John Hollenbeck: percussion, toys.

Title: Cloudy Then Sunny | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Libra Records


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