Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Satoko Fujii Ma-Do – Desert Ship

Multistylistic Japanese composer/pianist Satoko Fujii has just released four radically dissimilar albums simultaneously this spring: one by her gypsy jazz quartet Gato Libre, another by her mammoth Orchestra Tokyo; a noisy improv date by her free jazz outfit First Meeting, and this characteristically fascinating, emotionally varied, richly melodic one by her pretty straight-up small combo Ma-Do. This particular unit happens to be three-quarters of Gato Libre, Fujii on her usual piano this time alongside husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, plus drummer Akira Horikoshi. A normal music site would have lumped all these albums together into a single article: we’re taking the time to assess each on its own merits because it would take pages to do justice to them in one fell swoop.

The opening cut sets the tone right off the bat, variations on a catchy hook with the inevitable crazed improvisational freakout lurking somewhere down the line. In this case it’s circular permutations of a theme very evocative of the Doors’ Break on Through riff on the piano, Tamura flying overhead in a similarly catchy vein. Koreyasu eventually emerges from the pileup unscathed, somberly, by himself. This album’s title track also appears, far more lushly arranged, on Fujii’s Zakopane cd (just reviewed here) with her Orchestra Tokyo. This version is even more stripped down than it would seem, Tamura’s trumpet a lonely figure in the wilderness, bass coming in with a koto line, piano following in a similarly minimalistic vein. The best song on the album is Nile River, a poignantly swaying modal piano/trumpet theme with the bass scraping gashes in the fabric, wild and skronky, leading the way up.

The album’s fourth cut, Ripple Mark has Fujii running a simple chordal riff, adding menace by degrees as the bass prowls around on its own, Tamura making his entrance with the drums’ martial stomp. They segue into the sarcastically titled Sunset in the Desert, essentially just a big swinging drum solo with occasional squealing accents from trumpet and bass (and Fujii sneaking in to see what the boys have been breaking at the end). Pluto is an otherworldly series of piano cascades with pauses for bass and drums and occasional, brief deoxygenated accents by Tamura into yet another crazed breakdown. They take that idea to its logical and considerably amusing extreme on the perfectly titled While You Were Sleeping, Fujii tossing ever more uneasily as Tamura and Horikoshi jump, stomp and blare, refusing to stop the madness until she finally accedes and gets up. Capillaries has everybody in the band exchanging ever more boisterous trails of bubbles; the album ends with the airy, distant, icily wary epic Vapour Trail, Fujii at her most incisive and bracing, the rest of the band giving her a wide berth. What else is there to say? Another triumph for this extraordinary composer. It’s out now on Not Two Records.

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March 29, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo – Zakopane

Satoko Fujii is one of those people who seems to record everything she plays – in her case, that’s a good thing. Methodically if not particularly calmly, Fujii has become over the past 25 years simply one of the most important composers of our time: she gives new meaning to the term “panstylistic.” Her own Libra Records imprint has most recently released Gato Libre’s delicious new gypsy-jazz concoction; a surprisingly tuneful if crazily noisy one from her free jazz outfit First Meeting; a typically vivid one by her small combo Ma-Do, and this album by her colossal fifteen-piece Orchestra Tokyo. She first made a big-band splash with her Orchestra New York back in the late 90s: this effort finds her similarly out-of-the-box but considerably different, Kelly Churko’s evil, chicken-scratch guitar skronk frequently adding a snarlingly jarring undercurrent very evocative of Arto Lindsay back in his DNA days. Fujii loves paradoxes and studies in contrasts: as usual, there are plenty of them here, some of them very funny. This ensemble is piano-less, Fujii working exclusively as conductor.

The cd opens with variations on a big bluesy rock riff with boisterous solos from Takao Watanabe’s trumpet and Hakuregumo Nagamatsu’s trombone. The characteristically paradoxical Desert Ship runs a lush, pensively cinematic minor key theme, husband and longtime collaborator Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet a barely caged elephant plotting a quick getaway – and then they’re off on the wings of Sachi Hayasaka’s completely unhinged soprano sax. The third track, Zee, sets gritty, trebly noise-guitar beneath lush, swaying orchestration into a woozy yet disturbed Toshihiro Koike trombone solo. The amusing early morning barnyard ambience of Sakura builds to a rubato, overcast early summer atmosphere, individual voices filtering in and out.

Tropical Fish is even funnier, Ryuichi Yoshida’s baritone sax sprawling and content until the food enters the tank, Koike following in the same vein – and then the rest of the fishes join in a tango that goes from stately to Mingus-esque noir to Jerry Goldsmith cartoonish. The title track works contrasts: a spacious bowed bass intro by Toshiki Nagata against a couple of blasts from the orchestra, then some Bill Frisell-on-mushrooms guitar from Churko that doesn’t take long to go completely unhinged and noisy against big, suspenseful orchestration. The most suspenseful cut here, actually is Trout, a rousing detective theme that’s actually a tribute to a good meal – it must have smelled really good in the kitchen! – Kunihiro Izumi adding a deliciously Middle Eastern alto solo worthy of Lefteris Bournias. They end on a boisterously satirical note, the horns taking a sentimental theme completely over the top with weepy vibrato. As with Fujii’s 2006 live album with her New York orchestra, this one’s going to end up on a lot of best-of lists at the end of this year. New York audiences may not get a chance to see this band, so this album may be as close as you ever come. Fujii, however, gets around (she used to be here a lot more than she is now); watch this space for NYC dates.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gato Libre – Shiro

“Our fourth cd release,” says Gato Libre trumpeter/bandleader Natsuki Tamura, “Is largely thanks to Otoya-Kintoki, the live house where we play in Nishi-Ogikubo, Tokyo. As soon as we finish a performance there, regardless of whether customers showed up or not (usually the latter), the couple who run the place always ask us, ‘When can you play here next? Do you have an open date next month?’ To which I say, ‘Are you sure that’s all right with you? Hardly anyone ever shows up at our gigs.'” Bless the folks at Otoya-Kintoki for sustaining this excellent if not exactly popular instrumental quartet. Besides Tamura, the band features Satoko Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on acoustic guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. Another thing that stands in Gato Libre’s path to worldwide recognition is how diverse and genre-smashing they are. Although they’re all accomplished (and actually famous) jazz players, this particular band blends elements of flamenco, Middle Eastern, gypsy and rock music into a fearlessly improvisational free-for-all. It works because it’s all about atmosphere, there’s a tight chemistry between band members, and Tamura’s stunningly terse, catchy themes make such a good basis for jams.

The first track is a perfect illustration: simple variations on a minor chord, plaintive accordion segue into brisk flamenco-flavored modal tune, accordion acidically shadowing the guitar’s nimble runs, incisive Arab-inflected trumpet solo and a big flamencoesque chordal crescendo as a trick ending. The next cut lets the bass state a thoughtful theme which then rises ominously with a series of crescendos and then an otherworldly jam where everybody goes off to a cabaret of the mind. The aptly titled Falling Star is stark and gypsy-tinged, highlit by a terse modal conversation between guitar and bass. Going Back Home is a swinging Balkan dance that Fujii slowly ushers outside into the netherworld where the rest of the band join her – Tamura offers up a sad flamenco solo, and then they’re off to the races again.

Mountain, River, Sky is essentially a country song, bass introducing the theme and then counterintuitively carrying the lead for most of its eight minutes; Memory of Journey [sic] sends a stately levantine dance further south on a tricky, rhythmic West African tangent followed by the most overtly post-bop passages on the album. The album wraps up with the warmly bucolic title track, evocative of the jazz/country hybrids of Jeremy Udden or Bill Frisell. Gato Libre may not be very popular but they’ve managed to put out one of the best albums of the year, one that will resonate equally well with fans of Balkan and gypsy music as well as adventurous rock and jazz people.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment