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Satoki Fujii and Natsuki Tamura

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Satoko Fujii - along with William Parker and Barry Guy - is one of the few pushing the big band into the future and for her part four times over with standing orchestras in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe and New York. In addition, she works in duo with Tatsuya Yoshida, Paul Bley and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura; trio (a new set with Jim Black and Mark Dresser has also recently been released on the couple's Japanese Polystar imprint); and quartet, as well as performing solo and all based largely in her own compositions.

Satoki Fujii Orchestra
Blueprint
NatSat-Polystar
2005

Blueprint is her 10th record for large ensemble and the fifth for the 16-piece American group that includes Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby and Steven Bernstein. As always, her compositions are bold and sensible, unpredictable and fully enjoyable - never does she walk paths of irony or forced oddity. She uses the band to full advantage, with symphonic swells and stomping rhythms, sounding every bit as tight and fresh as Ellington must have 60 years ago. For those unfamiliar, a better starting point is the two-disc Double Take (released by Ewe in 2000) featuring both New York and Japanese ensembles. But Fujii is never one to disappoint and Blueprint delivers.

Satoki Fujii
Sketches
NatSat-Polystar
2005

Fujii does not put herself at the front of her orchestras, so it's in the smaller ensembles that she comes out as a confident and engaging pianist. Her solo sets are more lyrical, even sentimental and it's there that her studies with Paul Bley at the New England Conservatory of Music are most evident. The 11 pieces on the aptly named Sketches (her first solo recording in eight years) find different approaches and the disc is beautifully recorded. It's not her fault that dynamic big bands are far scarcer than introspective solo pianists, but this still isn't the standout that Blueprint is. It is nice, however, to hear a player as tasteful as she prepare and strum the instrument's innards without losing voice.

Natsuki Tamura
Ko Ko Ko Ke
NatSat-Polystar
2005

Tamura contributes one composition to Sketches, a strange yet satisfying ten-minute piece called "Ochai! It's interesting to hear what Tamura (easily the odder of the two) does with Fujii's group, but more interesting to hear what he does when left to his own devices. Ko Ko Ko Ke is a deeply introspective record, an almost voyeurstic peek into what would seem to be a charmingly unusual mind. With little melodies and simple sung passages, Tamura's disc is reminiscent of the solo half of Lester Bowie's All the Magic!, to the extent that it's reminiscent of anything at all. Tamura has found some humor since his first solo record, 1997's Song for Jyaki.

Natsuki Tamura
Exit
Libra
2005

Give that mind a quartet and, well, anything might happen. Exit features heavy drums, electric guitar and, as on his great Hada Hada, Fujii on synthesizer. Despite jazz chops in evidence, the disc could as easily be called improv rock and with its 26-minute centerpiece might be what bloated progressive rock should have been: virtuosic and kicking. Tamura's adventurousness with Fujii's consummate jazz sensibility makes for a strange pairing and one that will no doubt continue to reward.

Tracks and Personnel

Blueprint

Tracks:

1.Blueprint; 2.Ocha!; 3.Anemometer; 4.Nagoyanian; 5.Kioku; 6.Untitled

Personnel:

Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss — A.Sax; Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby — T.Sax; Andy Laster — B.Sax; Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein Dave Ballou, Laurie Frink — Tp; Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, Joe Fiedler — Tb; Satoko Fujii — Piano; Stomu Takeishi — Bass; Aaron Alexander — Drs

Sketches

Tracks:

1.Seventh Moon; 2.Frozen Fire; 3.Watershed; 4.Tree Rings; 5.Tin Can Cat; 6.Clay Pot; 7.Your Deepening Shadow; 8.Dazzling Sunlight; 9.Looking Back; 9.Looking Everywhere; 10.Look Up

Personnel:

Satoko Fujii - piano

Ko Ko Ko Ke

Tracks:

1.Mekinaka; 2.Peng; 3.Nettara Mottara; 4.Tahi Tahi; 5.Shamisen; 6.Kogena Agena; 7.Kokokoke; 8.Honamesa; 9.Pasurija; 10.Taiko; 11.Guta; 12.Epura; 13.Syste; 14.Samidare

Personnel:

Natsuki Tamara - trumpet

Exit

Tracks:

1.Entrance; 2.Endanger; 3.Eliminate; 4.Expired; 5.Exit

Personnel:

Natsuki Tamura: tp; Takayuki Kato: g; Satoko Fujii: syn; Ryojiro Furusawa: d


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