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Satoko Fujii's Ma-Do and New Trio: Time Stands Still and Spring Storm

Hrayr Attarian By

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Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii is a prolific and versatile musician whose fast pace and relatively large volume are never at the expense of quality. In fact her improvisation heavy records are innovative and cerebral yet they maintain a certain, surprising, accessibility. She has recorded in settings ranging from solo to large orchestra and always with a refreshing variety of instrumentations. Two of her 2013 releases are Time Stands Still with her Ma Do quartet and Spring Storm with her new trio, both on her own label.

Satoko Fujii

Time Stands Still

Libra

2013

Time Stands Still is a poignant album as the bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu passed away unexpectedly shortly after these sessions were laid down. Koreyasu's intelligent and audacious sonic experimentations bring stimulating color to the intricate and intriguing compositions. On the dramatic "North Wind and The Sun" his thrilling interchange of angular bowing with carefully placed pizzicato punctuations give the tune a dark edge enhancing its taut ambience. Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's warm, Spanish-tinged solo unfurling over the rhythm section's expectant and hypnotic vamps, meanwhile adds a vivid cinematic touch.

Tamura switches from warm, expansive blowing with Latin hints on "Fortitude" to atonal flutters and sputters on "Time Flies" and delivers both with equal passion. Much like his wife and musical partner Fujii he explores the entire range of his instrument with creativity and adroitness. On "Rolling Around" his growls complement Fujii's evocative and crepuscular lines. Elsewhere on "Broken Time" his fiery yet melancholic horn blows over Koreyasu's otherworldly and vaguely Levantine sounding con arco bass. Fujii's intricate and poetic melody, spiced up with angularity pirouettes ardently over drummer Akira Horikoshi's mordant and dark rumble. Horikoshi's colorful trap beats and cymbal crashes close the piece with breathtaking intensity.

Horikoshi, becomes more pensive and expectant on his solo that opens the title cut leading to Tamura's longing, burnished tone. Koreyasu's sublimely mournful bowing creates a somber atmosphere that Fujii's wistful cascades of notes punctuate, making both the disc and the song an apt elegy for the prematurely deceased bassist.

Satoko Fujii New Trio

Spring Storm

Libra

2013

The more introspective Spring Storm is Fujii's first trio recording since 2008 and one that radically reinterprets the format. Fujii strikes a perfect balance between rich melodicism and unfettered, imaginative spontaneity.

"Fuki," for example, opens with Fujii's impassioned exercise in stimulating atonality as she both percusses the keys and plucks the strings of the piano. Bassist Todd Nicholson's agile and contemplative solo bisects Fujii's fiery swirls of sound that deluge over drummer Takashi Itani's explosive polyrhythms. Together the ensemble creates multilayered and thrilling abstract landscapes of improvised poetry that are sublimely intellectual yet with a visceral punch.

The title track, that also opens the CD, features Fujii's mellifluous and lush undulations full of melancholic beauty. The piano's resonant lines unfold over the percolating bass and drum duo as the group play evolves into an imaginative and ethereal expressionism.

The darker "Convection," meanwhile, opens with Nicholson's pensive and lyrical bass with Itani's hand percussion supporting the vaguely Latin extemporization. Fujii's exhilarating tempo changes evolve over the sound of various shakers creating a noir-ish ambience. The three-way conversation that follows is hypnotic and gripping with soulful, complex harmonies.

Fujii also is a master of using silence in a unique manner. On the haunting "Tremble" she weaves a deceptively simple melody around carefully placed pauses, reverberating bass strings and echoing cymbals. Its elegiac tones close the disc on a quieter and mystical note, bringing the music full circle.

On this exquisite CD Fujii has thoroughly reimagined the traditional trio yet has deftly maintained the elements of its universal appeal. For those familiar with her talent this should not come as a surprise. With each new work Fujii's musical vision matures and crystalizes so it is not by chance that Spring Storm is her most accomplished opus to date.


Tracks and Personnel

Time Stands Still

Track Listing: Fortitude; North Wind and The Sun; Time Flies; Rolling Around; Set the Clock Back; Broken Time; Time Stands Still.

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

Spring Storm

Track Listing: Spring Storm; Convection; Fuki; Whirlwind; Maebure; Tremble.

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

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