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The Essential Satoko Fujii, Part 3: Trios


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My job is making music I believe in.
—Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii's trio work, in the classic format of piano, bass and drums, or with various other instruments making up the threesome— most notably Natsuki Tamura's trumpet—are as adventurous as anything she does. Spaciousness is more prevalent, though onslaughts of dense clusters still show up. As with every effort she puts out, she is joyously original.

This Is It!
Libra Records

Mosaic, a piano, trumpet, drums outing, is playful and fresh, multi-layered and unpredictable, life-affirming and daring. By any measure the music would surely be labeled as avant-garde. That is how Fujii does things. But more and more over the years her artistry has achieved a gathering approachability, a melodic grace combined with bursting "out there" excursions featuring breaking-glass piano eruptions. Natsuki Tamura's groaning, wind-breaking, quacking-duck trumpet noise rotates with interludes of straight ahead blowing, beside drummer Takashi Itani's rattles and clanks, which sound like a cook in a madcap kitchen when he is not providing seismic rock backdrops.

The music waxes and wanes. Moments of pensiveness sit beside riotous assaults. Sometimes you are in the eye of the hurricane, sometimes you are in the full force gale.

Satoko Fujii Trio
Illusion Suite
Libra Records

Nobody does the piano trio thing like Satoko Fujii. While almost every other effort in this category can be related to Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, to name just a few, with Fujii, the sound is a category of its own. Free, to be sure, with classical tinges and the occasional influence of rock—though this is more apparent in her quartet work.

The 34-minute title tune evolves masterfully, beginning in a somber, classical mood, bowed bass in front of introspective piano interjections; and then five minutes in, things bounce into a rubbery groove without a lapse in continuity or logic; but then perhaps that's what a "suite" is all about. Moods and tempos change, trio members move forward and back in the sound, and things remain riveting for the duration.

Ikue Mori / Satoko Fujii / Natsuki Tamura
Prickly Pear Cactus
Libra Records

Coming to grips with the sound world these three artists create—shaped and molded in a long distance teamwork mode—is a bit of a challenge, and one that is well worth the effort. Electronicist/lap-topper Ikue Mori, pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura present these collectively crafted sounds that have only tenuous parallels to what might be considered normal music. It is, indeed, abnormal music, beautiful in its strangeness and off-the-beaten-path audacity.

"Alien" is a word that comes to mind on an initial listen, the piped-in music playing in the Trafalmadorian space-craft that just swooped in from deep space to check out this cloudy blue planet. But the Trafalmadore folks are peaceful. The music contains an angular serenity and patience one might expect from a higher civilization.

Satoko Fujii New Trio
Spring Storm
Libra Records

This is Satoko Fujii's "New Trio," as opposed to her original trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. She joins forces here 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. Their interplay is as intricate and compelling as any to be heard from any piano trio out there.

Satoko Fujii Trio
Bell The Cat
Tocuma Japan

In 2002 it was written of Bell The Cat: "Pianist/composer Fujii began her musical journey in Japan, studying classical music. But she soon found that world too dulling and stuffy for her free way of doing things. Her own music is mixed into an amalgam of jazz, classical, traditional Japanese folk, with even some elements of hard-driving rock. The constants in her new music: improvisation, surprises and delights, staid musical assumptions smashed to little bits..."

That review still rings true. This was Fujii's most successful piano trio, featuring bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. 2002 was a very good year for this particular ensemble, releasing Bell The Cat and the previously mentioned Illusion Suite.

Next up: The Essential Satoko Fujii, Part 4: Quartets.

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