In terms of CD releases, pianist Satoko Fujii passed the bandleader baton to her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura
, in 2012, resulting in two exceptional albums on the Libra Records label: the trumpet/piano duo outing, Muku
, and Forever
, from Tamura's European folk music-flavored Gato Libre group. For the always prolific Fujii, a year without a release under her leadership is an oddity. The year 2013 is lining up differently, however, with the debut of the Satoko Fujii New Trio's Spring Storm
and, now, from her Satoko Fujii Ma-Do Quartet, Time Stands Still
This is the third and, sadly, final installment from the Ma-Do quartet. The band's bassist, Norikatsu Koreyasu, passed away unexpectedly in late 2011, at 56 years of age. Time Stands Still
, the group's most inspired recording, is proof of how central and essential the bassist was to the ensemble's sound.
The disc opens fittingly, with Koreyasu's otherworldly arco solo on "Fortitude," as the bassist makes sounds that have never been heard beforesqueaks and rasps and knocks and alien life form squealsuntil the rest of the band eases into the picture with music that is characteristically (at least, in Fujii's world) unpredictable and unfailingly original, moving from steady grooves and ethereal beauty to startling bursts of high-energy, four-way interplay. Trumpeter Tamura blows, as always, with no boundaries. His notes may be straight-ahead and quite conventional, but then he shifts into flutters and dry spits, whispering or growling for a time as Fujii lays down spare, meditative notes or sudden car crashes of sound in league with Akira Horikoshi, a drummer capable of delicate subtlety and nuance, but one who can also respond with an appropriate riot of percussion when the time is right.
There's nobody making music like Fujii. The set's second tune, "North Wind and the Sun," is a passionate, sometimes rollicking and rolling ten-minute symphony suffused with an off-kilter beauty that closes out with small, whispered piano notes. "Time Flies" opens with a trumpeter/drum interlude that segues into a fluid rhythm, riding the bounce of Koreyasu's bass before moving into a jagged soundscape that wanders briefly, only to then rediscover its rubbery groove.
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do was a magnificent band, with perhaps the most cohesive interplay of all of the pianist's groups. With the passing of Norikatsu Koreyasu it will be no more, and that's a crying shame, but Time Stands Still
stands as one of Satoko Fujii's strongest and most riveting recordings to date.