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Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble: Fujin Raijin

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Satoko Fujii has put together another ensemble. There's nothing new in that; it seems she and/or her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, form a new group or two every year, just to keep things fresh. With the Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble, the mercurial Japanese-born pianist/composer takes off on yet another tangent—an exploration of Japanese folk music.

It's a departure of sorts. The Gato Libre group—in which Fujii plays accordion—has put out two CDs influenced by European folks sounds: Strange Village (Onoff, '05) and Nomad, (No Man's Land Records, '07), pastoral western music full of the characteristic Tamura/Fujii molding of the sound to make it their own. The music on Fujin Raijin feels less familiar, with the Japanese folk sound being foreign to most of our ears—edgier and more "out there," as they say.

The Min-Yoh Ensemble (Min-Yoh means folk music in Japanese) consists of Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Curtis Hasselbring playing trombone, and Andrea Parkins on accordion. The group opens and closes the disc with two traditional Japanese folk songs, "Itsuki No Komoriuta" and "Kariboshi Kiriuta." In between you hear four Fujii originals that delve deeply into the power and beauty of the form.

The music is made with simple scales, structures and forms, and without a familiarity with the traditonal sound, it's hard to say how far Fujii takes things out. At least half way is a good guess, judging from the Gato Libre discs.

As with every new ensemble Fujii forms, the listener encounters things they've never heard before—calamitous sonic assaults beside gentle yet insistent pushes that are always taking the listener, by force or guile, to new places.

"Itsuki No Komoriuta" opens with a plucking of strings—inside the piano is the guess, since there's no "string" instrument here; and it sounds a lot like the opening of "Walking Squid" from the Natsuki Tamura/Elliot Sharp/Takayuki Kato/ Satoko Fujii disc, In the Tank (Libra Records, '05), with an otherworldly tinny-stringed delta blues feeling, followed here by Fujii's scattered raindrop piano plinks that are soon joined by a meditative trombone before the accordion—sounding an awful lot, on this tune and throughout, like a sort of subdued organic electronica—adds a stingingly eerie touch. Then in blows Tamura's trumpet, making sounds like no other trumpeter makes: squalls and squeaks and grunts and screams, interspersed with a straight ahead tone.

Like much Fujii music, Fujin Raijin mixes ensemble sounds that are by turns placid and fierce, placing the fiery ear-opening stuff beside gentle lullabies, with seemingly familiar interludes evolving, without warning, into the very strange.

As always with Fujii, expect the unexpected, and expect to be mesmerized.

Track Listing: Itsuki No Komoriuta; Champloo; Shimanto; Slowly and Slowly; Fujin Raijin; Kariboshi Kiriuta.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Andrea Parkins: accordion; Satoko Fujii: piano,

Title: Fujin Raijin | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Les Disques Victo


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