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Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There

Dan McClenaghan By

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Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There Pianist/composer Satko Fujii—one of the more prolific jazz artists around—leads a variety of ensemble configurations from duos to to bands, and everthing in between. One of her longest-standing groups is her trio with drummer Jim Black and bassist Mark Dresser. When We Were There is the eighth CD she has recorded with the Dresser/Black team, and the second one for which she's brought in her husband and oft-times musical collaborator, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, to join them.

Earlier this year, Fujii released Live in Japan 2004, the beginning of the morphing of the trio into the Satoko Fujii Four—not to be confused with her Satoko Fujii Quartet, a harder-driving and more consistently intense listening experience featuring bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and drummer Tatsuo Yoshida. Live in Japan 2004 offered fresh takes on some of Fujii's previously released compositions, with Tamura sitting in. It sounded like the beginning of an evolution from trio to quartet. With When We Were There, the tranformation is complete: a new, fully integrated unit has been formed.

Along with the addition of Tamura's trumpet, Fujii's change in direction—a constant in her artistry—drives her to explore shorter pieces. In the past her compositions have tended toward length—her masterful "Illusion Suite" clocks in at over a half an hour. Here she tightens the focus, opening with the two-and-a-half-minute "Sandstorm," an intense, gritty maelstrom of sound, followed by the screeches and squeals of trumpet/arco bass on "Runaway Radio," which creaks in with an eerie, haunted house atmosphere and builds to a clamorous, wailing crescendo.

The title tune finds the group in a lyrical mood, flirting with the mainstream, teasing with some slamming rock beats behind Fujii's repeated phrases. "In Your Dream" explores tone poem territory, making you forget about instrumentation and concentrate on sound.

The success of Fujii's Four can be attributed, in part, to the melding of the four distinct personalities (and an antagonism/cooperation dynamic in play among them), as well as, in larger part, the freedom she allows her collaborators, resulting in obvious listening/responding modes.

When We Were There, another reinvention from the ever-evolving Satoko Fujii, proves itself a riveting listening experience for those with open ears.

Track Listing: Sandstorm; Runaway Radio; When We Were There; In Your Dream; A Path through the Garden; Nourishment; Nocturne; The Lion of the Heart; An Excursion; Inori; A Diversion.

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

Title: When We Were There | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Polystar


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