Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Big Band Jazz Has Never Been So Much Fun As It Is on Satoko Fujii’s Ninety-Nine Years Album

Satoko Fujii did a second album with her Orchestra Berlin because, she says, “These guys are total goofballs. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much ridiculous fun in the studio as I had with these clowns.”

That’s not really what she said. The official quote from the press release for the album, Ninety-Nine Years (streaming at Bandcamp) is “I think they bring out some part of me that the other bands don’t.”

Like crazed, insane fun. Over the epic course of about ninety albums with umpteen ensembles since the mid-90s, Fujii’s own sense of humor tends to be much more subtle, and her music is almost always on the serious side. This is her cartoon soundtrack, an album for jazz fans with long attention spans who need a good laugh. And yet, there’s plenty of signature Fujii gravitas here as well.

Everything here but the closing number – which begins like Lunar New Year on East Broadway in Chinatown – clocks in at well over ten minutes, sometimes closer to fifteen. The first number, which seems extremely satirical, is Unexpected Incident, as the Japanese government euphemistically termed the Fukushima nuclear disaster (Fujii did a whole Fukushima-inspired album with her Orchestra New York, which this blog chose as best album of 2017).

Fujii’s main axe is the piano, which she plays here; she’s also an excellent accordionist.Tenor saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann shrieks and squalls over the group early on, bassist Jan Roder tirelessly running a loop. There’s a din of a trombone/tenor duel between Matthias Schubert and Matthias Müller, the orchestra picking up a loop of their own. Roder returns more syncopatedly behind an increasingly agitated Natsuki Tamura trumpet solo; the way Fujii sneaks a secondary theme in before Ullmann’s shrill solo coda is artful, and typical of her.

Roder opens the title track, a dedication to Fujii’s late mother-in-law, with an increasingly scrambling solo, eventually joined in wisps and flickers by drummers Peter Orins and Michael Griener and baritone saxophonist Paulina Owczarek, who works her way to a fond, lyrical upper-register solo. They bring it down to just the drums and Ullmann, who chews the scenery until Fujii signals a steady, bittersweet, chordally brassy theme while Ullmann keeps doing his bad cop in contrast with Owczarek. They end together, warmly.

The funniest number here is On the Way, from its suspenseful, shamanistic twin-drum intro, to brassy hints of reggae, a bit of the rudiments from the drummers, and a grumpily cartoonish solo from Tamura which somebody in the band tries to lure away – the joke is too good to spoil. The faux New Orleans outro will also make you smile.

Oops is a showcase for both vaudevillian absurdity and some very sobering interludes. A triickily rhythmic, circular massed theme gives way to Schubert’s unbridled exuberance, but that’s when Fujii signals for a dirge behind his revelry: there’s no escaping this dark undercurrent. Tamura goes to the Middle East, the bass bubbles tensely, until finally the band erupt in a Keystone Kops charge. A dirge and another charge return along with spacious, bright pulses in between.

They close with Follow the Idea, from crazed New Years festivities, to goofy conversational blips, droll low spitballs and all-stops-out squalling over a thump and a LMAO false ending, Fujii has never made another album like this before – it was one of a dozen she put out in 2018 to celebrate her sixtieth birthday year – and she probably never will again. Enjoy. Big up to the rest of the cast, which includes trumpeters Richard Koch and Lina Allemano; trombonist Matthias Müller; and guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi.

January 21, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magical, Otherworldly Guitar Music Inspired by the Art of Sol Lewitt

The number of musicians whose albums were either sidelined, or more or less disappeared without a trace after the lockdown, is staggering. Guitarist Gabriel Birnbaum’s otherworldly, mysterious, often haunting solo record, Wall Music For Sol Lewitt – streaming at Bandcamp – was one of them. And that’s tragic. If you like magical, spacious, stark sounds, you’ll love this album: fans of the bell-like piano works of Federico Mompou are especially encouraged to check it out. It’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole rather than track by track. It was tempting to save the album for the annual October-long Halloween celebration here, but that’s way too long to deprive you, considering that Birnbaum released it six months ago.

Each piece takes its title from a number of the pieces in Lewitt’s Wall Drawings. In  keeping with Lewitt’s architectural approach, Birnbaum created graphic scores for his elegantly looping, very subtly microtonal compositions. #11 is the first, with understated polyrhythms woven into the eerily chiming, stately, circling theme.

#16 is a skeletal, somber march. His precisely plucked belltones are more delicate and intricate, akin to a carillon, in #17. He expands the sonic frame, adding harmonics on the high end in the enigmatic #19. Then he introduces lushly strummed chords for a much warmer sound in #38 – imagine Glenn Branca at low volume, without the distortion.

Birnbaum shifts gears again with the slow, sirening swoops of #46. Resonant major-key ambience alternates back and forth between creepy tritones and minimalist clock-chime phrases in #47, then he basically works that dynamic in reverse in #85

He winds up the album, taking inspiration from four works beginning with #154 over the course of thirty-eight minutes. This suite has the album’s airiest, most atmospheric moments: tritones linger briefly before an utterly hypnotic web of saxophone drones sets in. The way Birnbaum works more disquieting tonalities into it, at a glacial pace, is artful to the extreme. It makes you want to visit find the museum where Birnbaum’s inspirations are housed to see what springboarded this strange and beguiling record. Oh wait, you can’t, museums are locked and dead now in most parts of the world. Music isn’t the only art form the would-be engineers of the New Abnormal are trying to destroy.

January 21, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment