Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: First Meeting – Cut the Rope

This album is the sonic equivalent of a Thai curry gone awry, where you accidentally use an entire can of green chiles, then you add too much garlic, then you realize you’re out of everything else but spices. So you throw the curry in and sautee everything, but on too high heat – the outsides caramelize while the insides stay raw. And then you discover you have nothing to chase it with, no rice, just water. You might find the results completely inedible, but you’d be surprised to know how many of your friends wouldn’t be able to get enough of that endless, raw burn. Like your kitchen disaster, trumpeter Natusuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii’s new album with Cut the Rope, their free jazz outfit, is more of an abrasive intoxicant than it is music. It’s best described, and experienced, as a whole: it might be best appreciated while under the influence of something and it might (but might not) have been created under the influence of something too.

Drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto doesn’t hang out much: his main job here is supplying a dense wall of white noise via lush layers of cymbals. When he’s not doing that he’s hitting every piece of metal within reach and probably breaking a stick or two. Yet he can be just as delicate, particularly playing bells during a misty, rustically-tinged duet with Fujii’s koto-like prepared piano. Guitarist Kelly Churko (who also plays with Tamura and Fujii in Fujii’s massive Orchestra Tokyo) runs the gamut from eerily tentative blues, to death metal, to chicken-scratch skronk, to running a simple, muted bossa nova beat during a quieter interlude (which eventually gets stomped on mercilessly by the drums). In a stage whisper through his valves, Tamura conjures the ghosts of free jazz trumpeters past, otherwise squalling or bleating, especially during a memorable duel with Churko’s metal riffage. Fujii serves as the voice of reason here, typically introducing what melody there is, whether plaintive and eerie as is so often her custom, or just plain funny (particularly a latin interlude that the rest of the band completely ignores during the practically 25-minute fourth track). But like an overstimulated cat, the noise always lures her away to see what’s up and join the fun. Everyone finally finds his or her feet – pretty much – during a couple of extended, eerily modal loops toward the end, Fujii and Churko’s macabre music box piano and guitar duet taking it down to a delightful surprise ending.

Most people will find this album pure hell to sit through (check out Tamura’s solo work, Orchestra Tokyo or the most recent Tamura/Fujii small combo, Ma-Do for accessible tunes and high spirits). On the other hand, there’s got to be a couple thousand devotees of noise and vigorous free jazz around the world who would find this hard to walk away from. You may have to drag them with you because you may not want to be around it. Can somebody please open a window? It’s smoky in here and everything smells like garlic.

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April 2, 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