Pianist Paul Bley was one of pianist Satoko Fujii's teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music, which she attended on scholarship in 1993. Upon attaining her Graduate Diploma in Jazz Performance, she recorded the delicately beautiful and mysterious Something About Water
(Libra, 1996), that has Bley playing with her on eight of the eleven tracks of free improvisation.
While this release can be considered her debut recording, it is a fully mature effort where teacher and student interact as equalsso much so that it is impossible to tell who is playing which part, or even whose piano is on the left or right on any particular track. Indeed, even when the parts are clearly delineated, that which sounds like the leading voice continually shifts. The physical unity of sound is purposeful, achieved by how the album was mixed and reflects the unity of spirit that pervaded the session.
Fujii relates that she and Bley went into the studio without any prior discussion before or between recording each track. The titles were added later, and thus reflect Fujii's reactions to the improvisations themselves and her life at that point in time. Thus the motifs of water, thawing and springtime describe the music which itself is the result of the direct connection Fujii has to her music and also that between her and Bley.
The session sounds completely natural as one player or the other starts with an idea which is then taken up and developed. The music is abstract in that pulse, harmony and overt melody is not present, making those moments jump out when one aspect or another clarifies, as in "Thought about spring" or "Strings."
However, the sense of control within the freedom is so strong as to be startling. Tension is created through dissonance and linear conflict only to be released in such a natural way as to seem pre-composed. Each track has its own personality, and techniques that are logically explored and followed to an end feel as if they must be. Each track has a distinct pause at the end that emphasizes the completeness of each creation from the master and the student.
The three closing solo tracks clearly demonstrate the combination of innate control and creative emotion that Fujii brings to her improvisations. While it is natural that these pieces possess a higher degree of cohesiveness than the duos, the ability to balance the free flow of ideas and their logical development, along with communicating deep emotions, shows Fujii to already be a master.
With the remarkable Something About Water
, the connection to works ten years later such as Minamo
(Henceforth, 2007), with Carla Kihlstedt, is clear.