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Satoko Fujii: Trace A River

Budd Kopman By

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With the first high, floating, bowed notes from Mark Dresser's bass, supported by the equally ethereal chords from Satoko Fujii's piano and Jim Black's shimmering cymbals, Trace A River boldly announces the return of her "American" trio, four years after Illusion Suite (Libra, 2004).

2008 finds Fujii turning fifty and she shows no sign of letting up, also releasing the second recording by Junk Box, Cloudy Then Sunny, and playing accordion on Kuro (Libra, 2008), from her husband Natsuki Tamura's group Gato Libre. Building a discography that now numbers close to sixty, and working in many forms and configurations, Fujii continues to make "music that has never been heard before."

This trio has been together since their debut, Looking Out The Window (Crown, 1998), and they know each other very well. Fujii lauds both Dresser and Black for their different, but equally fearless, approaches to performing. Since her music follows no rules, and yet has structure, direction, and the strong imprint of her freely giving personality, she highly values her band mates who can receive what she creates and then make it their own.

Fujii, Dresser, and Black are a real unit where their individual voices can be clearly heard while they continuously work together to make a unified whole. The result is music that is completely alive, unpredictable and yet accessible due to the logic of its structure and development.

The emotional range of Trace a River is enormous, both between and within its tracks. The opening title track, by far the longest at almost thirteen minutes, begins with Dresser's hair-raising cello-like playing, followed by an energetic theme that serves as the skeletal referent of the piece. He then continues with a blistering plucked solo, and Fujii responds with some ferocious playing, as does Black. The trio then joins forces to create a climax, which slowly wends its way back to the calm feel of the opening.

"Mantra," in contrast to the title track—which can be heard as a tone poem reflecting the descent of a river and its changing forms—is a sound world unto itself. Dresser's bass notes slowly slide up as Fujii plucks the piano strings, creating a supremely eerie sound until the bass plays a repeated riff underneath a floating piano melody and form arises from the depths—amazing music which embraces freedom within structure.

The other tracks are just as varied, surprising, engrossing, and entertaining. Included are two shorter tracks, "Day After Tomorrow" and "February," on which Fujii plays solo piano. On display are both her wealth of invention and real-time control. The music hovers around tonality, flirting with it, but never really leaving it behind. The effect is like a warm embrace as the music carries and leads the ear.

Exciting, energetic, many-layered, and thought-provoking, Fujii, along with Dresser and Black have created another masterpiece with Trace A River.

Track Listing: Trace A River; Take Right; Manta; A Maze Of Alleys; Day After Tomorrow; Kawasemi; February.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Jim Black: drums.

Title: Trace A River | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Libra Records


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