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Satoko Fujii New Trio: Spring Storm

Dan McClenaghan By

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Some of jazz's finest, most innovative and adventurous music can be found in the piano trio format. The list of artists pushing the boundaries is a long one: Vijay Iyer; Hal Galper; Craig Taborn; Brad Mehldau and a good dozen more, conservatively. A name rarely mentioned in that group—in part, because she leads so many groups with different configurations (23, at last count), yet hasn't offered up a piano trio set since 2008—is Japanese-born pianist/bandleader Satoko Fujii.

In addition to her prolific output with various ensembles, Fujii has seven piano trio sets with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black to her name, including Trace a River (Libra Records, 2008). A mercurial artist, the pianist's work with Black and Dresser shifts from gorgeous reveries and explosive calamities to dervish-like interludes of raucous sonic assaults, often in the same tune—a mode of operation guaranteed to keep the experience exciting.

Now she has a "New Trio," joining forces with bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani for Spring Storm.

The title tune opens with a gentle rumination that builds in gradual fashion in the direction of a tempest, some of Fujii's most beautiful playing on record. Then, like a sudden cloudburst, she explodes, cold raindrops dashing the rooftops, setting the glass wind chimes into sudden song before the storm tapers down, single drops ringing in the gradual cessation of the squall.

"Convection" gives off a furtive vibe, opening with Nicholson's stealthy bass solo that is soon joined by Fujii's tight, rapid-fire notes alongside Itani's variety of percussions—shakes. rattles and scufflings that sound like the works of a covert operation, with interplay as intricate and compelling as any to be heard from any piano trio out there.

"Fuki" opens up with a burst of Fujii's exquisite intensity, explosions of notes accompanied by the steadfast but malleable bass and a stream of unpredictable percussion—some subtle, some rumbling and riotous. At fourteen minutes the disc's longest cut, "Maebure" opens with an eerily bowed bass, accompanied by Fujii's spare notes, creating an ominous atmosphere. Five minutes in—in true Fujii fashion—the band clicks into a sudden gear shift, signaled by a cluster of piano notes and a rapid, heartbeat of bass and drums, that then slides into a bass fibrillation.

Since her 1995 recording debut, Something About Water (Libra Records)—a duo outing with pianist Paul Bley—Fujii has produced a stunningly large discography of about sixty albums. It is tempting to say the very focused, often gorgeous and always thought-provoking Spring Storm—with its delicacy versus strength dynamic, and melodic beauty beside the articulate and challenging interplay—is her best work to date.

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

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

Title: Spring Storm | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Libra Records

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