Pianist Satoko Fujii's Shiki is an intriguing albeit somewhat flawed album. Its dramatic title track and centerpiece clocks over 35 minutes and is filled with sweeping and thrillingly dissonant harmonies and provocative musical ideas. Opening with mournful, expectant drone it goes through a series of alternating symphonic vamps and stimulating instrumental conversations and monologues. These individual expressions, however, are like brilliant fragments of poetic narrative and never coalesce into a cohesive entity.
The fascinating cinematic theme provides a unity of ambience and the passionate improvisations punctuate it with raw intensity. Thunderous polyrhythms for instance mark drummer Aaron Alexander's unaccompanied, turn in the spotlight while a lyrical melancholic trumpet solo closes the tune on a darker, quieter mood that bassist Stomu Takeishi's reverberations enhance.
Fujii's husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's "Bi Ga Do Da" alternates chanting and theatrical recitations with musical dialogues primarily between Tamura's expressive horn and Alexander's rumbling beats. An energetic rock-ish rhythm underlies these refrains that frame Fujii's compelling piano. Her extemporization shimmers with an angular sophistication that captivates with its atonal yet melodic phrases. Here, too, alas the overreliance on repetitive motifs is at the expense of conceptual integrity.
Perhaps the most impeccable part of the disc is Fujii's often played, almost signature piece, "Gen Himmel." The requiem for late bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu starts with an engaging din of simultaneous horn and woodwind soliloquys in front of a somber backdrop. Gradually the performance becomes more orderly and the swelling orchestral sound engulfs individualism of each musician into the expansive, wistful hymn.
Shiki is a frequently stirring and, in a way, curiously absorbing record despite its imperfections. Although most of it seems like a collection of sketches rather than a finished picture, it remains the work of one of the most ingenious musicians of our time and hence, even in this incomplete state, bears the mark of her finesse and fiercely explorative spirit.
Shiki; Gen Himmel; Bi Ga Do Da.
Oscar Noriega: alto saxophone; Briggan Krauss: alto saxopohone; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Andy Laster: baritone saxophone; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Herb Robertson: trumpet; Steven Bernstein: trumpet; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Joey Sellers: trombone; Joe Fiedler: trombone; Satoko Fujii: piano; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Aaron Alexander: drums.
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