The huge dual drum opening of part 1 of the title piece is a clear signal that with Ichigo Ichie, pianist/composer/conductor Satoko Fujii is not going to hold back when introducing her latest orchestral group of Berlin (which she now calls home). Orchestra Berlin is Fujii's fifth such group (after creating and recording with orchestras in New York, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe) and it has a unique personality all its own.
Four of the five tracks consist of a piece that Fujii composed for the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival. Unusual in that Fujii named the piece before she composed it, "Ichigo Ichie" (roughly "once in a lifetime") was conceived for a particular occasion and set of personnel, and thus the title. But, as Fujii notes, improvised music itself can never be repeated and hence each performance is unique and deserves one's full attention. This is especially true with Fujii's music in that there is almost always some kind of discernible structure within which the performers are given much space to play as they wish, but also to understand what is happening around them.
While there is clearly some composed and notated music that the group is reading, there are many sections given over to one soloist or another, with or without accompaniment. What the soloists do is frequently astonishing, but just as intriguing and surprising are what happens between and behind their playing. High energy full-ensemble sections lead immediately to silence, followed by a solo of a completely different character (as in the opening minutes of part 2). This is edge-of-the-seat music that has a palpable central line of energy flowing through it, even in the softer sections.
Everything holds together, but how Fujii manages to do this is one of her secrets. Clearly, the musicians wanted to be a part of this project, whether they got the chance to solo or not. It is also clear that those who solo are valued for their individual voice as well as being able play appropriately within the constantly changing framework of this music.
Ichigo Ichie is frequently astonishing in its impact, and not just in the louder sections. The music relentlessly moves forward creating "visual emotions" that just will not let go; attention is not so much demanded as requested, and once involved, there is no going back. The music's mix of logical and audible structure within which freedom reigns is what enchants and what keeps one riveted in place.
This is truly music "that has never been heard before."
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