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Satoko Fujii: Undulation and Live!!

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Satoko Fujii Orchestra NY
Undulation
Polystar
2006


Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo
Live!!
Libra
2005




It would be easy to assume that there's something to be gleaned about the differences between Eastern and Western jazz from pianist Satoko Fujii's New York and Tokyo orchestras. Fujii is a singular composer, generally more rooted in the American tradition than bringing Orientalism into the work and is one of the most innovative bandleaders with standing ensembles around. Like Ellington, for the most part, Fujii writes specifically for the players in the groups, but her compositional voice is her own; just as she doesn't attempt to create a Japanese flavor, she doesn't try to do the New York thing with the Orchestra West.

She is also a seemingly tireless innovator, finding new approaches with each recording and here the twists lie not in the bending of tradition but the embrace of it. The 14 pieces across these two discs (with one shared) are among Fujii's most 'mainstream' jazz compositions. In some circles, those might be walking words, but Fujii here is in the world of tradition, not neo-tradition. And with such remarkable performers, the recordings are a joy. Orchestra West is comprised of many of New York's finest: saxophonists Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss, Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby and Andy Laster; trumpeters Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou and Fujii's husband Natsuki Tamura; trombonists Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler and Joey Sellers; and a rhythm section of Stomu Takeishi on bass, Aaron Alexander on drums and the leader on piano. The Tokyo Orchestra, not surprisingly, has fewer names known to New Yorkers, but it includes trumpeter Yoshihito Fukumoto (a Grammy nominee), trombonist Tetsuya Higashi and drummer Akira Horikoshi (who has worked with the ROVA saxophone quartet).

Fujii diplomatically gives two solos per piece so each member gets a spot, but it's really the charts that define the discs. Of the two, the Tokyo group pushes harder, likely because she has more opportunity to work with them. The 2000 release Double Take, with a disc by each of the New York and Tokyo groups, remains the essential Fujii Orchestra document, but these strong, spirited updates are more than welcome.


Tracks and Personnel

Undulation

Tracks: Metal; Water; Wood; The Moon; The Sun; Undulation; Fire; The Earth.

Personnel: Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss: alto sax; Ellery Eskelin, Tony Barba: tenor sax; Andy Laster: baritone sax; Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou, Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Joe Fiedler, Curtis Hasselbring, Brian Allen: trombone; Satoko Fujii: piano; Stomu Takeishi: bass; Aaron Alexander: drums.

Live!!

Tracks: Scramble; Water; An Unpaved Road; A Brick House; A Submarine Volcano; Fue Taiko; Bennie's Waltz.

Personnel: Sachi Hayasaka: soprano and alto saxophones; Kunihiro Izumi: alto saxophone; Kenichi Matsumoto, Masaya Kimura: tenor saxophones; Ryuichi Yoshida: baritone saxophone; Natsuki Tamura, Takao Watanabe, Yoshihito Fukumoto, Yusaku Shirtani: trumpets; Haguregumo Nagamatsu, Tetsuya Higashi, Yasuyuki Takahashi: trombones; Satoko Fujii, piano; Toshiki Nagata, bass; Akira Horikoshi, drums

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