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Satoko Fujii: Gen Himmel

John Sharpe By

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A solo album tends almost inevitably to focus on instrumental chops rather than compositional skills. And that's the way it is on Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii's third unaccompanied outing, following Sketches (NatSat, 2004) and Indication (Libra, 1997), although she shows herself to be blessed with both. Compared to the exuberance and spirit of her group work with outfits as diverse as Ma-do and Kaze, she presents what a very intimate and introspective side of her personality. In the liners Fujii recounts that she has been inspired by the passing of several close friends, which might explain the bright but melancholy overall nature, low key and more understated than we have come to expect from her.

Slower rubato pieces dominate, though one of her most distinctive traits, the delving into the innards of the piano to explore unconventional timbres, is still very much in evidence straight from the off, as she rubs strings on the title track to create shimmering sheets of rumbling metallic hums, squeaks and plucks, before changing direction completely by pitching stately hymn like chords against an anarchic expressionistic build up. Interior manipulations play a role too in "Take Right" as Fujii starts with a gamelan-flavored Morse code. However thereafter, proceedings take on a more familiar energetic cast, as she juxtaposes a repeated melodic phrase against a trademark rolling ostinato.

At times she resembles her countrywoman and fellow pianist Eri Yamamoto in her insistent rhythmic savvy allied to a deep soulfulness. In a program of 12 short cuts, other high points include the warm, sparkling "In the Dusk," "Dawn Broun" where staccato ascending arpeggios and glissandi threaten to stretch into all out freedom, but keep reassuringly returning to the initial ascending motif, the joyous rippling "Summer Solstice" with prepared keys accenting the percussive patterns, and the closing "Der Traum" in which Fujii's singing line pierces an elegiac stasis begetting more drama prior to the final theme statement which ends suddenly leaving a question mark in mid-air. Whatever the query, the answer has to be "more please."

Track Listing: Gen Himmel; In the Dusk; Hesitation; Take Right; Ram; A.S.; Dawn Broun; Summer Solistice; I Know You Don't Know; Ittari Kitari; Saka; Der Traum.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano.

Title: Gen Himmel | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Libra Records

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