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Satoko Fujii ma-do: Time Stands Still

John Sharpe By

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When asked why she has lead or co-lead so many different projects (23 at last count), pianist Satoko Fujii replied "It's like food. I don't like just Japanese food, but also Italian food, French food and so on, and I would soon get tired if I just ate Japanese food." If her ma-do quartet were to have a culinary equivalent it would certainly be tasty: something spicy with rich complex flavors. It's almost as if Fujii has so many ideas that she has to force as many as possible into every composition. Each cut screeches into handbrake turns of clashing incongruity which the band somehow make sound unforced and natural.

As much about the people as the instrumentation, Fujii sees ma-do as a means to be able to rehearse such involved scores with trusted long time collaborators. Alongside husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet are bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, with the pianist for over two decades, and Akira Horikoshi, the drummer from her Tokyo Big Band. One of the beauties of ma-do, also apparent on their previous outings—Heat Wave (Not Two, 2008) and Desert Ship (Not Two, 2010)—resides in the near perfect balance they achieve between charted intrigue and beguiling instrumental virtuosity.

Apposite examples are everywhere. "Fortitude" opens proceedings auspiciously, as Koreyasu's eerie slithering bowing becomes gradually submerged by a jumpy piano/drum unison, later doubled by Tamura. A subsequent episode for staccato piano turns jazzy then erupts into sweeping glissandos along the keyboard, before a strongly syncopated conclusion. As if in live performance (the studio set was recorded midway through a North American tour), the cooling piano/bass droplets which close "North Wind And The Sun" lead imperceptibly into the delicate piano reverie of the following "Time Flies." As well as directing from the piano stool, Fujii here confirms her stature as a superlative soloist, scrabbling among the piano innards over a rocky beat, before explicating a knotty ostinato.

Although Tamura's lines boast a lyrical core, he tempers sentimentality by co-opting unconventional sounds: subterranean growls, breathy whooshes and buzzing raspberries all play their part. In this adventure, Koreyasu matches him blow for blow, as demonstrated at the start of "Broken Time" when his swooping arco harmonics roughly intertwine with the trumpeter's metallic burr. They also shine on the lovely title track, after a portentous drum intro, where Tamura's teetering lullaby melody is underpinned by the bassman's mournful sawing. That leads to a threnody for Fujii and the bassist, which slowly fades to nothing. Exquisitely beautiful, it's hard not to see the piece as a tribute to Koreyasu who died suddenly of a heart attack aged 56, three months after this session. As such, it makes a fitting though bittersweet end to this splendid final album from ma-do.

Track Listing: Fortitude; North Wind and The Sun; Time Flies; Rolling Around; Set the Clock Back; Broken Time; Time Stands Still.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Norikatsu Koreyasu; Akira Horikoshi: drums.

Title: Time Stands Still | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Not Two Records

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