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Satoko Fujii: Trace a River, Cloudy Then Sunny & Kuro

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Satoko Fujii
Trace a River
Libra
2008


Junkbox
Cloudy then Sunny
Libra
2008


Gato Libre
Kuro
Libra
2008




The ever-prolific Satoko Fujii is celebrating the year of her 50th birthday by doing what she does ever year: touring, composing and recording relentlessly. The latest round of releases from Libra—the imprint she runs with trumpeter Natsuki Tamura—include new recordings by her longstanding trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black and a more recent trio with Tamura and drummer John Hollenbeck. Tamura might not match his wife's speed of release, but his records are just as satisfying, as evidenced by a new release from his band Gato Libre.

The trio with Dresser and Black uses some of her jazziest writing and playing, full of jumping lines and lyrical passages. More recently, the group has been expanded to include Tamura on trumpet, but here they are back to their original lineup and it's in the classic piano trio setting that the influence of Fujii's former teacher Paul Bley comes out the most. While Trace a River sounds like the band's previous work, here perhaps it is more contemplative, softer and more pastoral at times. Dresser, of course, is more than able to fulfill his role here, generally keeping close to the pieces and supporting Fujii beautifully. The band's edge comes from Black's drums. He's just as tight in the pieces, but pushes to an unexpected degree. Where this could have been a brush-and-cymbal affair, Black underlines rather than accentuates, solidifying the melodies.

For a player with as many projects as Fujii, it's hard to tell when something's a one-off meeting or a new band. So it's a happy surprise that Junk Box has come around with a second release, Cloudy Then Sunny. The first disc by the trio of Fujii, Tamura and Hollenbeck was a fun meeting even if it didn't quite gel. Here, however, they feel like they know what they're dealing with. The pieces (all Fujii's) are less formalized than her trio compositions, sometimes even comic. Tamura likes to play the imp and Fujii seems to compose to that here. Fujii's bands are always centered on rhythm, but Junk Box is her most open project, with piano and drums falling back and forth on the rhythm while Tamura's muted sobs and sputtered screams wander inbetween. It's an unusual side to the pianist and an enormously fun one at that.

Fujii and Tamura seem to give each other permission to act out in their respective bands. Tamura—historically the quirkier of the two—has grown downright respectable with his Gato Libre project, playing much more inside than with Junk Box. And likewise he throws Fujii into unexpected situations in his groups, having her play synthesizer in past groups and, with the Spanish-inflected new band, accordion. With the band's first release in 2005, it seemed another trick up Tamura's sleeve, but now they're up to three with Kuro and the records keep getting better. The sweet, plaintive melodies are swapped between the leader and acoustic guitarist Norikatsu Koreyasu, whose playing shines throughout. There's still playfulness to his composing, but the performance is daringly traditional. Tamura's new trick, apparently, is that he's not trying to trick anyone at all. Tamura and Fujii are always worthy of attention, but this latest round is an especially good harvest.


Tracks and Personnel

Trace a River

Tracks: Trace A River; Take Right; Manta; A Maze Of Alleys; Day After Tomorrow; Kawasemi; February.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Jim Black: drums.

Cloudy then Sunny

Tracks: Computer Virus; Chilly Wind; Back And Forth; Night Came In Manhattan; Chinese Kitchen; Multiple Personalities; Opera By Rats; Alligators Running In The Sewers; Soldier's Depression; One Equation; Cloudy Then Sunny.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet, toys; Satoko Fujii: piano; John Hollenbeck: percussion, toys.

Kuro

Tracks: Sunny Spot; Patrol; Battle; Reconcile; Together; Beyond; Kuro.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: accordion; Kazuhiko Tsumura: guitar; Norikatsu Koreyasu: bass.

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