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Satoko Fujii with her various ensembles: Ichicgo Icihie, Yamiyo Ni Karasu and Kaze's Uminari

Hrayr Attarian By

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Words like superb, outstanding or splendid are redundant when writing about pianist, accordionist and composer Satoko Fujii. With an average of five releases per year over the past decade, she is indeed one of the most prolific musicians. The abundance of her output though is never at the expense of its quality or originality. As the trio of 2015 albums demonstrates Fujii, with her various ensembles, is restlessly innovative with an unparalleled skill and a singularly captivating musical vision.

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin
Ichicgo Icihie
Libra
2015

A dramatic ambience imbues all three records but none as much as the five part suite Ichicgo Icihie. Conceived for the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival the recording features Fujii leading a Berlin based orchestra that also includes her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and few other frequent collaborators.

Fujii conducts with a theatrical sense of cadence and timing, organizing the entry of various sections carefully as to enhance the tense mood. Her deft leadership and captivating composition not only do not sacrifice the spontaneity of the individual band members but allow it to evolve and blossom.

On the symphonic fourth movement baritone saxophonist Paulina Owczarek weaves an evocative haunting improvisation. Bassist Jan Roder's sparse reverberations and the dual drummers,' Peter Orins and Michael Griener, rumbling beats provide Owczarek with a darkly hued backdrop. The ensemble enters with a fury that engulfs Owczarek's thick, plaintive lines and ushers in the majestic conclusion.

Orins and Griener open the album with a bang as their kits thunder with fiery passion. Roder's angular and eloquent solo emerges from the silence that follows this rousing overture. Trombonist Matthias Mueller's agile and thrilling phrases expand over the trumpets' ethereal sound effects and Roder's pensive drone. Müller's exciting duet with the rest of the ensemble ends the segment with a thrillingly riotous group performance.

This unique take on collective extemporization within Fujii's dynamic, prewritten framework is provocative and enchanting. It is simultaneously cerebral without being dryly academic and viscerally stirring while avoiding chaos. As the title (roughly translated as Once in a Lifetime) indicates it is a singular and unparalleled listening experience.

Satoko Fujii Tobira
Yamiyo Ni Karasu
Libra
2015

On the contemplative and stormy Yamiyo Ni Karasu Fujii showcases her unique pianism that encompasses her instrument's entire harmonic range. Her expressive improvisations consist of percussive chords and harp like strumming of the piano's innards.

On "Run After A Shadow" the delightful dissonance of bassist Todd Nicholson's lithe perfromance carries over to Fujii's own resonant solo of keys and strings. Gradually, with entry of drummer Takashi Itani' s galloping beats a stimulating and angular stream of consciousness conversation coalesces around Nicholson's hypnotic con arco drone.

Fujii also endows her pieces with dramatic poetry. On "Potential Energy" Tamura's yearning, wistful horn weaves a Spanish tinged melody. Itani's cymbals softly crash in the background as Fujii's evocative refrains resonate and Nicholson's phrases reverberate. Fujii's rushing arpeggios crash like waves against Itani's ragged percolating drum-set. Itani takes his turn in the spotlight with riveting polyrhythmic flourishes that contrast with Nicholson's lyrical, oud like, tones.

On her extemporizations Fujii goes from contemplative and incandescent to crisp and crystalline. She explores western folky motifs reminiscent of such American composers as Aaron Copland on "Wind Dance." Her unaccompanied and pensive monologue opens the warmly emotive tune that despite its angularity maintains a fluid lilt and an impressionistic sense.

In contrast, "Centrifugal Force" is a clear, taut and mordant harmonic whirlwind. The torrent of notes consolidates, with breathtaking agility and grace, into an exhilarating and complex exercise of stimulating cacophony.

The trio plus one set up allows Fujii a chance to stretch out as a performer. This elegant disc amply demonstrates that she is as skilled an instrumentalist as she is a composer.

Kaze
Uminari
Circum-disc
2015

The intriguing Uminari with the collaborative group Kaze is a vehicle for Fujii's exquisite interactive abilities in a vibrant and dynamic collective. The most expansive of the three releases, Uminari in part or in its entirety can serve as a soundtrack for an experimental art house film.

The serenely melancholic "Vents Contraires" for instance has an eerie yet captivating ambience that quartet's various sonic explorations create. Fujii plays a shimmering, mournful melody on the impromptu, prepared piano while Tamura and trumpeter Christian Pruvost blow softly dense, windy lines. Orins expectant beats grow more powerful and closer as they climax into an undulating and cinematic group song.

The dual horns play strange and fascinating refrains on "Running Around" while Fujii and Orins set forth a restive, edgy aura. The vivid and morphing concerted sonic swirls circle to an exciting apogee that ends in a solemn and pastoral air. The trumpeters' rounded elastic tones pierce the serenity like an otherworldly lullaby. Slowly their wail grows eloquent yet more bizarre coaxing out of their instruments strange and fascinating accent. The track ends with Orins' impassioned and electrifying drum-work.

The band's flirtations with mysticism are best heard on the haunting "Inspiration." Bells chime, trumpeters inhale and exhale into mouthpieces, alternating between brash force and fragile tenderness. Together with strummed piano strings they paint a transcendental soundscape that grows more vivid as silent pauses are deftly interwoven within the melodic structure. Fujii's tolling keys endow the piece with a somber spiritual feel while Pruvost and Tamura blast and flutter like winds over desolate landscapes.

Each one of Kaze's releases has been uniquely filmic and expressionistic and Uminari is no exception. The seamless and exquisite camaraderie among the ensemble members make it cohesive and imaginative while brimming with spontaneity.

With these very different yet equally ingenious CDs Satoko Fujii once again proves that she is one of the most brilliant, compelling and intelligent voices in modern music.

Tracks and Personnel

Ichigo Ichie

Track Listing: Ichigo Ichie 1; Ichigo Ichie 2; Ichigo Ichie 3; Ichigo Ichie 4; ABCD.

Personnel: Matthias Schubert: tenor saxophone; Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone; Paulina Owczarek: baritone saxophone; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Richard Koch: trumpet; Nikolaus Neuser: trumpet; Matthias Müller: trombone; Kazuhisa Uchihashi: guitar; Satoko Fujii: piano; Jan Roder: bass; Michael Griener: drums; Peter Orins: drums.

Yamiyo Ni Karasu

Track Listing: Hanabi; Run After A Shadow; Fuki; Wind Dance; Centrifugal Force; Potential Energy; Yamiyo Ni Karasu.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Todd Nicholson: bass; Takashi Itani: drums.

Uminari

Track Listing: Tioky Astimo; Vents Contraires; Running Around; Inspiration; Uminari.

Personnel: Christian Pruvost: trumpet; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: piano; Peter Orins: drums.

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