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Satoko Fujii ma-do at Dizzy's, San Diego

Dan McClenaghan By

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Satoko Fujii ma-do
Dizzy's
San Diego, California
August 31, 2008


The Satoko Fujii ma-do quartet kicked off its North American tour in support of their CD Heatwave in the middle of the three-day Labor Day Holiday at Dizzy's in downtown San Diego.
Pianist/composer Fujii leads numerous ensembles: crazy, freewheeling, riotous big bands (several), trios (at least two) and two other quartets. Her sound is characterized—in any of her chosen formats—by constant audacity and strange beauty, by sudden bursts of searing energy and hundred and eighty degree direction changes, with a transcendently uncompromising dedication to her art. The CD Heat Wave is no exception, and it is one of Fujii finest hours on record.

The concert at Dizzy's proved an exceptionally fine hour (an hour plus, actually), too. Fujii said jet lag was a factor, joking mid-show that it most affected the "two old guys"—her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. The quartet had arrived from Tokyo the day before, but it was apparent, even during the sound check, that the group can boil with an uncommon fire and energy—combined with stunning virtuosity—that most rock groups can only dream about.

Experiencing Fujii and company live throws in the visual element, and they are something to see. Trumpeter Tamura is a compact man standing calm and non-plussed in the middle of waxing and waning maelstroms, playing a duet with the elephantine cries of a passing train. Drummer Akira Horikoshi flails with a superhuman finesse and seems, especially during his solos, to be set on some Twilight Zone fast forward mode, sending out surging waves of percussive orchestrations. Koreyasu writhes and wrestles with and caresses his bass, and Fujii...

If her music doesn't convince you she is a woman possessed (it should), seeing her play live leaves no doubt. In moments of relative repose she might stand and use a wand-like device to stir up, like a half mad sorceress, odd potions inside the piano. When things shift into the high octane mode—this happens on every tune—she sits and goes after the keyboard as if soaring in out of another dimension, with an expression of concentration as unalloyed, as intense, as any you'll see on the face of a human being. In a live setting, the very unconventional yet always engrossing music of the CD comes truly alive.

An absolutely riveting performance at Dizzy's in San Diego.

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