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Satoko Fujii's Sanrei might smell like teen spirit, but it isn't a rock power trio disc; it's an orchestra sent here from nirvana by way of Nagoya, Japan. Pianist Fujii eschews the keyboards for a conductor's baton, leaving the chords to guitarist Yasuhiro Usui to shred with abandon.
Probably best known for her virtuosic piano, Fujii plays in trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, duo with husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, or in Tamura's Gato Libre Quartet. She does have an established big band resume, organizing four separate jazz orchestras in New York, Tokyo, Kobe, and Nagoya. The Nagoya chapter is the most raucous, led mostly by electricity (guitars and playing) and with a tendency to rock out. Think of this music as a combination of the big bands of Carla Bley and Otomo Yoshihide.
Recorded live in September, 2007 at Tokuzo in Nagoya, the disc opens not as a big band, but as the aforementioned trio: drums plus electric guitar and bass. The sound is stadium rock circa 1985; even when the massive horn section enters, the drummer plays his kick-drum with a bump-bump-bump that could make Eddie Van Halen tear up. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t camp by any means. The musicians are up to this challenge. Solos are sinewy and athletic, led by the trumpeter Tamura and stellar tenor saxophonist Yoshihiro Hanawa.
The Fujii composition “Blueprint” is a stop-start precision piece twisting in 360 degrees of direction and heat. Nearly 2:30 minutes into the track, the musicians set their instruments down for some vocal entropy. Such fun and gymnastics, every big band should try. The title track has a dark noir feel, part Duke Ellington, part John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, with more stellar soloing. This is a jazz orchestra that can rock, or maybe a rock orchestra that can swing.