Satoko Fujii: Chun, Heat Wave & Summer Suite


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Natsuki Tamura / Satoko Fujii

Satoko Fujii ma-do
Heat Wave
Not Two

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York
Summer Suite

Pianist Satoko Fujii and husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, have been performing and releasing their music since 1996, resulting in over 60 recordings in their discography. They've divided their time between the US and Japan and have groups based in each country. Fujii currently has three big bands, each of which has a distinct character, as well as a piano trio (with Mark Dresser and Jim Black), two different quartets and other more ad-hoc combinations. Tamura plays in Fujii's big bands and quartet, has his own hard-edged quartet, yet another in which Fujii plays accordion (Gato Libre) and a series of remarkable solo recordings. These are two clearly creative and hyper-productive musicians who must never sleep!

Chun is the fourth installment in a series of duet recordings that Fujii and Tamura have been releasing since 1997. Perhaps because they're involved in so many other projects, when they come back to the duo, it still sounds fresh and inventive. All nine compositions are by Fujii and the opener, "Tokyo Rush Hour," is a rigorous convoluted line that both maneuver in unison with ease. "Nuidibranch" rhythmically floats and drifts with murky, dense chords as Tamura ekes out arcing Don Cherry-like lines. If the harmonic language appears closer to Western European art music, the rhythmic vitality allies these pieces to jazz. There's a lot of textural variety in these tracks as well. On the epic-length closer "Triangle," Fujii employs a lot of inside-the- piano work and Tamura shows impressive command over his instrument's extended range. There is an almost telepathic communication between these two when they're in a duet situation.

ma-do is a second quartet recently formed by Fujii. Her established quartet has an almost manic, punkish edge to it defined by the presence of Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. For this band Fujii stated she wanted "a project that can work more with written parts." The material on Heat Wave is surely complex and tricky but the quartet—with bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu and drummer Akira Horikoshi—sounds comfortable. One doesn't get a sense of contrivance from it (complexity for its own sake) due to her skillfulness as a composer. Fujii is trying some different things with this band as well. "Ring A Bell" has a Middle Eastern lilt to it before it breaks open into a free section with some microtonal playing by Tamura and a lengthy prepared piano-rhythm section interlude. It's also interesting to compare the version of "Spiral Staircase" on the aforementioned duo album with this one, where the thematic material is more equitably stretched out among the group members. It's to Fujii's credit that she can have two different quartets that play very different music from each other yet maintain a creative edge with both.

Orchestra New York is the most recorded of Fujii's big bands (Summer Suite is their seventh disc) and is comprised of some of New York's finest players. With such in-demand musicians as saxophonists Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin and trumpeters Herb Robertson and Dave Ballou, it's impressive that the personnel of this group (15 players strong), many of whom lead their own bands, has remained stable for the past four releases. That is surely a testament to Fujii's writing and arranging skills. And with a consistent band, she can write to the musicians' individual strengths. The title track is nearly 40 minutes with complex shifting themes filled with intricate passages, shifting tempos and harmonies, both opaque and Ellington-esque as well as dense and impenetrable. "Sanrei" shows the influence of the quartet she has with Yoshida, with heavy rock-influenced rhythms, steaming forward with an aggressive momentum. The music on Summer Suite bristles with energy that makes this one of the most vital big bands recording today.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Tokyo Rush Hour; Nudibranch; Infrared; Chun; Stone Flowers; Curt Response; Ultra Violet; Spiral Staircase; Triangle.

Personnel: Natsuki Temura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: piano.

Heat Wave

Tracks: Heat Wave; Beyond The Horizon; Mosaic; Ring A Bell; Tornado; The Squall In The Sahara; Amoeba; Spiral Staircase; To The Skies.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: piano; Norikatsu Koreyasu: bass; Akira Horikoshi: drums.

Summer Suite

Tracks: Summer Suite; Sanrei; In The Town You Don't See On The Map.

Personnel: Oscar Noriega: alto sax; Briggan Krause: alto sax; Ellery Eskelin: tenor sax; Tony Malaby: tenor sax; Andy Laster: baritone sax; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Herb Robertson: trumpet; Steven Bernstein: trumpet; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Joey Sellars: trombone; Joe Fiedler: trumbone; Satoko Fujii: piano; Stomu Takeshi: bass; Aaron Alexander: drums.

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