A Bittersweet, Characteristically Tuneful Pair from Pianist Satoko Fujii
With a nod to Dave Brubeck – album title, song titles and general lyricism included – Time Stands Still is the final album by pianist Satoko Fujii’s Ma-Do quartet. Sadly, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu didn’t live to see it released, having teamed with the ensemble – also including Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Akira Horikoshi on drums – to record it in a single session in the summer of 2011. Three months later, he was gone. In the liner notes, Fujii eerily relates a visitation by the bassist in one of her dreams shortly thereafter: he thanked her for the good times and then disappeared.
Like Tamura, his bass work and interplay with the quartet often involves extended technique: scrapy bowing, whispery overtones and glissandos. The two make a double wild card of sorts, whether pairing off or playing against Fujii’s alternately terse and blithely romping lines and Horikoshi’s matter-of-factly spacious, frequently suspenseful presence. Tamura’s phantasmagoria contrasts with Fujii’s precise, briefly bossa-inflected pulse on the opening track, Fortitude. Bouncing, insistent motives give way to a conspiratorial whisper and then a wary, flurrying martial groove on North Wind and Sun; the title track is the smash hit, Fujii’s catchy, staggered hookiness punctuated by circling solos by drums and trumpet.
Rolling Around does anything but – it’s a vehicle for drollery from Tamura and Koreyasu. Set the Clock Back works a vividly austere clockwork theme through cantabile trumpet/piano harmonies down to the spare rhythm section; it wouldn’t be out of place in the Sara Serpa catalog. The quartet revert to a staggered, moody, martial vein on Broken Time, livening it with wry blues allusions and a devious false ending. True to its title, Time Stands Still maxes out the suspense, a sepulchral tone poem building to a gorgeously plaintive, minimalist Fujii solo, ending the album on a particularly dark note.
Intricate, focused interplay is even prominent on Fujii’s latest trio album, Spring Storm, with Todd Nicholson on bass and Takashi Itani on drums A cinematic, forcefully percussive, torrentially Debussyesque rainscape opens the album: even the chaotic breaks are tightly rhythmic. Convection is a study in simple, clear riffage with subtle variations, particularly from Nicholson as he slips from incisive to nebulous. The variations go spiraling into triplets, with a memorably rumbling, polyrhythmic crescendo on the next track, Fuki, followed by Whirlwind, a thinly disguised, unexpectedly jaunty swing tune. The epic Maebure builds achingly from a brooding bass-and-piano moonscape to a punchy, funk-tinged central theme and back; the album ends with Tremble, a gorgeously angst-fueled miniature that ends all too soon. Fans of Fujii’s best small-group work, including her brilliant collaborations with Myra Melford and Carla Kihlstedt, will not be disappointed.
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