Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ichigo Ichie

Mark Corroto By

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I'm going to propose a computer "app" called Big Band World Domination. With this software players would be able to go forward and backward in time to have big bands compete against each other. Spin back to the territory bands of the 1920s, 30s, all the way to the 1960s, and then up to today. We could face off Walter Page's Blue Devils against Jimmie Lunceford's Orchestra, or match Count Basie's band against the Lincoln City Jazz Orchestra. With certainty, one of the dominant players in this app would be pianist and band leader Satoko Fujii.

For sixteen-plus years, she has established large jazz orchestras in New York, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kobe. She now gives us Orchestra Berlin, from her place of residence since 2011. Each city's orchestra finds the finest in forward thinking performers and improvisers to accomplish the intricate and elaborate music she composes. This Berlin recording follows Shiki (Libra Records, 2014) by her Orchestra New York, a 15-piece big band with among others, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou, Oscar Noriega, Ellery Eskelin, and Tony Malaby. Although we note the famous New York players, her Tokyo, Kobe, and Nagoya orchestras, with players not known outside of Japan are also excellent.

In Berlin, she assembled local players and expatriate musicians living in Berlin, plus two regular collaborators, husband/trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and drummer Peter Orins for this recording. Interestingly, the music here was written for her, yet unrecorded by the Satoko Fujii Chicago Orchestra. It was first performed at the 2013 Chicago jazz Festival by leading players, Dave Rempis, Ernest Dawkins, Jeb Bishop, Kent Kessler, and Michael Zerang.

Like all great leaders, she adapts the music to her assembled players. The four- part "Ichigo Ichie" opens with the clash and rumble of drummers (and yes, Peter Orins is an undiscovered superstar) jump-starting the river of music. The piece alternates between the formidable power of the large ensemble and the improvising (sometimes minimalist improvising) of the assembled players. Fujii sequences the whispered breath of trumpets and the storm surges of her orchestra to great effect. Gush, then Jan Roder's bass solo, rush followed by the whispered growls of Matthias Müller's trombone. Here music juxtaposes power and poetry, front lines versus the electric guitar effects of Kazuhisa Uchihashi's guitar. This quiet/loud dynamic has been a hallmark of her music for years. That, coupled with her composing, allows the players to navigate the written charts, but more importantly deliver noteworthy improvised parts.

The four-parts occupy about forty minutes of music. There is an additional piece, "ABCD," a composition written in graphics and with signaled improvisation cues for players to reassemble differently for each performance. The compositon doesn't lack locomotion or balance. It's momentum comes full stop before Fujii herself floats over her keyboards combining the music of Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, by exercising both the inside and outside of the instrument.

Track Listing

Ichigo Ichie 1; Ichigo Ichie 2; Ichigo Ichie 3; Ichigo Ichie 4; ABCD.


Matthias Schubert: tenor saxophone; Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone; Paulina Owczarek: baritone saxophone; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Richard Koch: trumpet; Nikolaus Neuser: trumpet; Matthias Müller: trombone; Kazuhisa Uchihashi: guitar; Satoko Fujii: piano; Jan Roder: bass; Michael Griener: drums; Peter Orins: drums.

Album information

Title: Ichigo Ichie | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Libra Records


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