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Solo Pianists from Japan

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These are two recent solo piano releases from Japanese players. One is the latest dispatch from a prolific musician. The other is a farewell statement from a deceased artist.

Satoko Fujii
Hazuki
Libra
2021

Satoko Fujii has been amazingly prolific in the last few years, releasing a bevy of recordings in all sort of configurations, from solo piano and duets with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, to various small groups and full orchestras. The global pandemic kept her at her home in Japan through most of 2020 but she still managed to do a few recordings, including this solo session captured that August.

Being shut in at home seems to have given Fujii a comfort level where she could assemble a compelling set that uses a lot of melodic fragments. Tracks such as "Invisible" and "Quarantined" are based on repeating phrases that expand into darkly lyrical elaborations. "Hoffen" (the German word for "hope") starts with delicately flickering notes and string plucks, reminiscent of Fujii's mentor Paul Bley, but swells in confidence and density. Other tracks like "Ernesto" and "Expanding," similarly go from small rippling fragments to grand, crashing climaxes.

The entire session sounds measured and thought out as though spending all her time at home has given Fujii the chance to reach a new level of introspection and forcefulness in her work. This is a strong volume in Fujii's long list of solo piano releases.

Masabumi Kikuchi
Hanamichi
Red Hook
2021

Pianist Masabumi Kikuchi had a long and varied career, working in the realms of, among other things, mainstream jazz, classical music, jazz fusion and digital dub. He collaborated with musicians like Mal Waldron, Gil Evans, Elvin Jones and Bill Laswell, settling into a piano trio in the 1990s' with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. That last approach led into the contemplative solo music he plays here on the final studio recording he ever made, done in December 2013 in New York City, eighteen months before his death from cancer.

As one might expect from his alliance with Peacock and Motian, Kikuchi's playing falls into the same quietly romantic mode as Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans, but he takes an unhurried approach to the tunes he plays here. He slowly inches his way through the melody of "Summertime," using a complementary melody in one hand to add gravity to the performance. He gives the ancient song "Ramona" an air of dignity and romance and does two versions of "My Favorite Things." On the first the melody emerges briefly before giving way to turbulent improvisation and on the slower second version, the melody inches out in fragments from a hushed bed of ominous chords. There is also an untitled improvisation where Kikuchi traces out two different colliding melodies with each hand, and the set ends with a pretty little melody he wrote for his daughter, "Little Abi" that exudes delicacy and poignance. Kikuchi's playing here is carefully judged, with each note bringing weight and resonance to the whole. This is a beautiful last testament from a versatile musician.

Tracks and Personnel

Hazuki

Tracks: Invisible; Quarantined; Cluster; Hoffen; Beginning; Ernesto; Expanding; Twenty Four Degrees.

Personnel: Satoko Fujji: piano.

Hanamichi

Tracks: Ramona; Summertime; My Favorite Things I; My Favorite Things II; Improvisation; Little Abi.

Personnel: Masabumi Kikuchi: piano.

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