Satoko Fujii: Hazuki

Dan McClenaghan By

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Satoko Fujii: Hazuki
Going back to the early 1960s, consider Brian Wilson, of Beach Boys fame. And consider his song "In My Room" (with lyrics co-written with Gary Usher), issued as a single and included in the 1963 album Surfer Girl (Capitol Records). It is a sound of loneliness, a poem to a sanctuary, a place that makes it possible to "Lock out all my worries and my fears." It was a breakthrough of sorts for the Beach Boys, a step away from songs about surfing and cars and girls, into a more personal world of Wilson's loneliness and isolation. It still stands as one of Wilson's loveliest songs.

Leap forward more than half a century, a take a hundred and eighty degree turn in terms of genre, then cross the Pacific (away from Brian Wilson's Southern California perspective), where avant-garde jazz pianist Satoko Fujii retreats to her room, to her piano—not out of any Wilson-ian diffidence, temperamental fragility or introversion (a person who makes music like Fujii's could not be an introvert), but out of the necessity of quarantine and isolation that came with the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Wilson's room was in his parents' house in Hawthorne, California; Fujii's room is in her apartment in Kobe City, Japan. It is where she recorded her solo piano album, Hazuki.

Fujii works in ensembles of all sizes, from duos like 2020's Pentas (Not Two Records, 2020), with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, to big band outings including Entity (Libra Records, 2020) with her Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York. And every ensemble size in between. All of her music is adventurous, most includes an element of turmoil, some is calamitous, almost all of it features interludes of stunning beauty; but Fujii's concept of beauty—idiosyncratic and surreal—is most consistently present in her solo work, on Solo (Libra Records, 2018), Stone (Libra Records, 2018), Invisible Hand (Cortez Sounds, (2017), and Gen Himmel (Libra Records, 2012). And now, especially, with Hazuki, a work of unwavering consistency of vision that spotlights Fujii's unique musical soul.

"I have been playing my piano for forty-five years," says Fujii. "We know each other well."

Fuji's familiarity with this complex mechanical instrument (no two are the same) combined with the quarantine restrictions and the complete aloneness of the recording process—could these have sharpened Fujii's already remarkable focus, on display in the disc's opener, "Invisible," that begins with eerie whisperings, tinkles and clanks—"the sound of something creeping up on us," like a soundtrack to a Shirley Jackson story. This mood plays out patiently, ominously, creating a feeling of gathering dread.

"Clusters" is a tune inspired by the late April 2020 reports of Corona clusters. "To a musician," Fujii explains, "a cluster is a chord made of adjacent tones." Fujii makes her own clusters, sonic multi-hued fireworks bursts, colors clashing, colliding and coalescing, interspersed with moments of gorgeous solemnity.

"Hoffen" is the German word for "hope." Fujii lived in Germany for four years, but never mastered the language. Her rendition of "Hoffen" is part of giving that effort another try, while addressing optimism for overcoming the Covid crises, in a manner that the world beat the Spanish Flu of 1918. The sound is cautiously sanguine, placidly pretty, determined, intent on the horizon. Here, and throughout, Fujii works inside the piano, manipulating the strings to create subtle orchestrations and odd percussion sounds—all part of her unconstrained palette.

"Twenty-Four Degress" (celsius) closes the disc. It refers to Kobe's temperature (in the 90s, fahrenheit) in August, 2020, when Fujii recorded these sounds, in her apartment in an un-air-conditioned room. It is a slow, unrelenting joy, in spite of what some might consider oppressive conditions. That is how Satoko Fujii, in her room, rolls.

Track Listing

Invisible; Quarantine; Clusters; Hoffen; Beginning; Ernesto; Expanding; Twenty-Four Degrees.


Satoko Fujii: piano.

Album information

Title: Hazuki | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Libra Records

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