Back at the start of her career, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii's reputation was considerably enhanced by her stellar trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. Together they waxed seven discs, with the last Trace A River (Libra) in 2008. Since then, the traditional piano trio hasn't appeared in her prodigious output, until the New Trio debuted here on Spring Storm. While perhaps not as virtuosic as their predecessors, bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani bring open minds and singular personalities to the bandstand. Fujii's expansive writing presents lots of opportunities for both men.
Equally through her execution as well as her idiosyncratic charts, Fujii defies being pigeon-holed by genre, adopting a range of approaches which draw on jazz, rock and contemporary classical in a deeply personal post-modern mix. But whatever the inspiration, she always remains determinedly expressive, unafraid of either wild dissonance or the honeyed phrase. As her conception so often revolves around insistent piano figures, bass and drums are given dispensation to become more conversational (Nicholson) and to generate momentum by playing around the beat (Itani). Indeed Nicholson excels as a melodic as much as a rhythmic voice, providing a flexible bottom end, while Itani adds an element of unruly unpredictability, most obvious in "Convection" where he resolutely avoids meshing with the pianist's syncopated rush.
It's only on the puckish "Whirlwind" that the head-solos-head format holds sway. Elsewhere Fujii plots multi-faceted courses. In the title track, all three seem as if they are chafing at the boundaries of the meditative rubato opening before exploding into a typically surging line which begets one of the leader's strong outings. On "Fuki" it sounds as if the structure has been set but not the content, as skittering trio sections alternate with Nicholson's unaccompanied bass, before parting to allow a thunderous piano excursion which involves forays under the bonnet as well as ferocious two-handed pummelling. "Maebure" also heavily features the bassist, as his speech-like arco swoops and wavers around rattling percussion and slow piano ripples, before another gear change into a choppy riff, a wild piano passage and a solo of tumbling polyrhythms by Itani. Already it feels as if the New Trio has carved out a distinctive niche, and it will be fascinating to follow their progress.
Spring Storm; Convection; Fuki; Whirlwind; Maebure; Tremble.