Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Steal This Composition Book

Soul singer Zeshan B once told an audience that whenever he’s at a loss about where to go with a tune, he just rips a riff from the Indian raga repertoire. Thelonious Monk would loop a phrase and play variations on it until he found something he liked. Iggy Pop’s advice is to take three favorite songs and mash them up. Another good option for the musically stuck would be to dial up the double vinyl album Diary 2005–2015: Yuko Yamaoka Plays the Music of Satoko Fujii, which unfortunately isn’t online yet. It’s a historic release: up to now, no one has ever put out a cover album of material by Fujii, widely considered one of the greatest improvisers of our time, but also underrated (and somewhat undiscovered) as a composer.

Since the mid-90s, Fujii has released over a hundred albums of her own and played on many others: solo, with small groups and several improvising orchestras. She has a Bach-like sense of the seemingly endless permutations that can be built from a simple phrase. This album is sort of the greatest hits from her sketchbook, Some of these ideas morphed into pieces she’s released over the years, but most of them just sat in a box until her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, suggested pulling the best of them together for a record.

Since Fujii and Tamura spend so much of their time on the road, they enlisted Yamaoka, whose background is classical music, to record them. The result is something worth…um…emulating. You can hear some of those emulatable ideas when Fujii, who’s been coming to town a lot more in recent months, plays Roulette on Feb 11 at 8 PM with her Kaze quartet; $18 advance tix are highly recommended and available at the venue on showdates.

Some of these ideas are barely twenty seconds long; others go on maybe a minute. It becomes clear early on that this is a great mind at work, and Yamaoka’s elegant phrasing does it justice. Fujii has a Pauline Oliveros-class sense of pure sound, but this is straight-up keyboard material without any of the inside-the-piano otherworldliness that Fujii inevitably brings into her live performance.

Each piece is titled by date: the darkness is pretty relentless. Among the most gorgeous are 021205, an understatedly majestic chromatic theme; the one from the next day, with its eerie belltones, is just as tantalizingly brief. A brooding waltz from December of that year could be the start of something beautiful, as could an intriguing series of interlocking phrases from the spring of 2006. A forlornly saturnine 3/4 ballad from the end of 2011 is another highlight. The most fully developed number is an allusive yet stunningly catchy quasi-bolero from 2014.

There are studies on the black keys, in whole-tone and twelve-tone scales and tense close harmonies. Contrasts abound: lively/still, low/high, spare/intricate and warm/icy. Flickers of Debussy, Stravinsky at his most phantasmagorical, Monk, Dave Brubeck, acoustic Steely Dan and Japanese folk melodies filter in and out. Fans of Bartok’s similarly fascinating and inspiring Mikrokosmos will find this a goldmine of useful ideas.

February 7, 2020 - Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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