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Satoko Fujii Orchestra NY: Undulation

Dan McClenaghan By

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Turbulence is a defining characteristic of Satoko Fujii's big band projects, where sections of collaborative sonic turmoil roar into moments of no-holds-barred soloing, with the segments of quirky tranquility sneaking in the back door.

Undulation, one of four simultaneously released Fujii big band efforts by the ever-prolific pianist/composer/bandleader, features her longest-standing large ensemble, the Satoko Fujii Orchestra NY, a fifteen-piece ensemble that includes some of the Big Apple's most adventurous jazz musicians: reedmen Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin and Andy Laster; trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Steven Berstein; and trombonists Curtis Hasselbring and Joey Sellers.

On Fujii's "Wood"—all the tunes on Undulation are by the leader—the band begins with an incomprehensible chant before they bombast into an adrenaline-juiced marching band mode that skids to a stop to allow Curtis Hasselbring and Joey Sellers to involve themselves in a restrained, thoughtful trombone conversation, until the rhythm pops back in, followed by some classical harmony with the 'bones blowing over the top, in a segment that sounds almost mainstream.

On the title tune, after huge blast of reed/brass wind, Fujii's piano moves center stage, with an opening solo that starts dark and dense before it tranfsorms itself into a delicately pretty sound, like a glass wind chime in a gentle breeze, as bellicose horns blow in trying to shatter the surpisingly durable rectangles of glass.

Fire, a Fujii composition also included on Kobe Yee!! (Crab Apple Records, '06) with her Orchestra Kobe, has an ominous feeling, starting with some rich harmony swelling out of a gentle drum rhythm. Restraint and majesty trade back and forth, and an intricate drum solo gives way to horns that give way to an introspective, sharp-angled reed rumination by Tony Malaby.

Undulation presents Satoko Fujii at the top of her big band game.

Visit Satoko Fujii on the web.

Track Listing: Metal; Water; Wood; The Moon; The Sun; Undulation; Fire; The Earth.

Personnel: Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss: alto saxophone; Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Andy Laster: baritone saxophone; Natsuki Tamura, Herb Roberston, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou: trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, Joe Fielder: trombone; Satoko Fujii: piano; Stomu Takeishi: bass; Aaron Alexander: drums.

Title: Undulation | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: NatSat Music

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