As her fiftieth birthday nears, pianist Satoko Fujii continues to release recordings at a furious pace. However, despite always extending her compositional and improvisational language, her musical personality remains recognizable by its unique mixture of melody, rhythm, freedom and structure.
An amazing release, Heat Wave
presents a new band named the Ma-Do Quartet, consisting of players from other bands which Fujii has played in or ledtrumpeter Natuski Tamura, Fujii's husband and musical collaborator; bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, a member of Tamura's band Gato Libre; and drummer Akira Horikoshi, a member of Fujii's Tokyo Big Band.
This band and its music sounds like a conscious summation of Fujii's most recent efforts in both composition and performance. Elegantly fused are the qualities of Fujii's other Japanese quartet, in its power and intensity; her Junk Box trio with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck, in its use of unconventional compositions requiring the musicians to give them import; her American trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, for their pure improvisatory prowess; and Tamura's Gato Libre, for its delightfully surprising and touching melodies.
This synthesis sounds entirely natural, and is represented by the quartet's name of "ma-do," which means "window" in Japanese, with "ma" also meaning the "silence between the notes." What Fujii is getting at with this name is not only that this music "opens to the outside," but also that listeners can see its insides, as the players negotiate the notation and react to it.
This music has an exquisite liveliness. It literally breathes, changing shape, texture and color continuously while it develops. The excitement created is palpable as the quartet reacts to what is written, with the result being three-dimensional structures of avant-garde classical grace that mutate, turning on a dime into heavy funk or literally exploding.
While Fujii relates that she is writing more and more, and that she needed musicians who could work from a written score, the only obviously composed parts here are those when a difficult line is played in unison. The gallery of sounds that Fujii imagined and scored is astounding. She takes great advantage not only of Tamura's advanced techniques of moans and screams, but also his softer, Gato Libre side. Koreyasu and Horikoshi are locomotives one second, only to drop to shimmering cymbals and arco groans at another.
Around, under, and through everything, Fujii displays her enormous range of piano playing, from the ferocious to the picturesque. She also uses the inside of the piano extensively, producing sounds that blend exceedingly well with Tamura and the others, as in a section near the end of "Beyond The Horizon."
Aurally stunning, complex and yet deeply and emotionally involving, Heat Wave
is a new high for Fujii. She has created, and continues to extend, her own sound world.