Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Satoko Fujii Just Keeps Reinventing Herself

From this blog’s perspective, one of the great things about pianist Satoko Fujii coming to town more frequently these days is that it’s an excuse to listen to another one of her records: she puts them out at an astonishing pace matched only by the astonishingly consistent quality of the music. Her next New York gig is at 8 PM this Feb 11 at Roulette with her Kaze quartet; advance tix are $18 and available there on shownights.

Of the new albums, what’s a good one to spin in advance of the show? There are so many: she put out an album a month in 2018. Why not try Triad, her trio record with bassist Joe Fonda and soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is Fujii at her most outside-the-box: there doesn’t even seem to be a piano on the record until a couple of minutes into the airy opening number, when it becomes clear that she’s getting the strings inside it to resonate with a few deft punches as Mimmo floats and Fonda goes way up the scale for harmonics you hardly expect from a bass.

The album’s centerpiece is the forty-plus minute improvisation Birthday Girl (the album was recorded on her birthday in 2018). Mimmo gives her a lively shout-out; Fujii’s own entrance is much more austere, echoed by Fonda. With his chords and steady pulse, he holds the center as she clusters tightly, Mimmo in imperturbable good-cop role. Fujii’s icy, Messiaenic insistence, grim low-register riffage, lingering unease and momentary divergences into chaos are typical and classic for her. The hazy sax/bass duet midway through is an unexpected departure.

The remaining three tracks seem like miniatures by comparison. Accidental Partner has a similar carefree/foreboding contrast between sax and piano. No More Bugs is amusingly picturesque and aptly titled. The three close with Joe Melts the Water Boiler, Mimmo finally picking up on Fonda’s sly boogie hints as Fujii plays kitten on the keys.

February 8, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment