Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trying to Keep Up With Pianist Satoko Fujii’s Grey-Sky Majesty

What’s more amazing about Satoko Fujii‘s over eighty albums as a bandleader – that virtually all of them are worth owning? Or that she reached that epic number in about twenty years? It’s hard to imagine another artist building such a vast and consistently excellent, often transcendent body of work over that  timeline.

The pianist has always been ahead of her time, touring relentlessly, releasing an average of four records a year (a dozen in 2018, to celebrate her sixtieth birthday). She’s got a three-day series of New York shows coming up next month with her husband Natsuki Tamura, the world’s number one samurai extended-technique trumpeter. On Dec 13 at 8:30 PM at the Stone at the New School the two will be remixed live by a frequent collaborator, Ikue Mori; cover is $20. The-following night, Dec 14 at the same time Fujii and Tamura are at I-Beam for five bucks less. Then on the 15th at 8 they’re at 244’s Black Box Theatre, 244 West 54th St., 10th Flo, time TBA.

Fujii is neither a particularly dark nor political person – although her music is often brooding and troubled, she’s actually very funny. Ironically, her most harrowing album to date is one she conducted rather than played on, the Fukushima Suite, with her improvisational Orchestra New York. That reflection on the terror in the wake of the March 11, 2011 nuclear meltdowns earned the designation of #1 album of the year at New York Music Daily in 2017. Considering her prolific output, it’s hard to pick a single record to get stoked for her Manhattan and Brooklyn shows, although one recent release, this past summer’s Confluence, a live-in-the-studio duo set with drummer Ramon Lopez, is especially good and arguably her most minimalist so far. It hasn’t made its way to the usual online spots yet.

The album’s first track, Asatsuyu has a close resemblance to the Twin Peaks title theme…only more interesting and unpredictable. Lopez uses his brushes to ice the background as Fujii builds variations on a simple, forlorn theme, up to a majestic, latin-tinged crescendo and gracefully down again.

Fujii goes under the piano lid, way down in the lows, as album’s most epic number, Road Salt gets underway. From there the two rise from a muted majesty to a steady series of catchy, loopy, emphatic phrases, a cautiously boomy drum solo and a hammering coda that reminds of the Police’s Synchronicity (speaking of synchronicity, just wait til you see what’s on this page in about 48 hours!).

Run! Is a fun, picturesque, scampering interlude, followed by Winter Sky, a surrealistically crescendoing tableau, Fujii both under the hood and on the keys as Lopez evokes hailstones and banks of snowclouds. Three Days Later, the album’s most gorgeous track, is an understatedly moody, spacious neoromantic theme, Lopez’s rumbles shadowing Fujii’s somber chords.

Fujii pairs a coy cathedral chime-like theme and then an unexpectedly austere, wintry melody with Lopez’s syncopation in Tick Down. The two cautiously lowlight the lingering atmospherics of Quiet Shadow and close out the album with the austere stillness of the title track. Although it’s probably safe to say that Fujii had a lot of these ideas in her head or a sketchbook by the time she recorded the album, most of this music was most likely made up on the spot.

November 30, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deep Listening From Perennially Adventurous Pianist Satoko Fujii

Late in life, pianist Satoko Fujii‘s grandmother lost her hearing. Yet she maintained that after becoming deaf, she heard sounds of incredible beauty in her head. Fujii’s new solo album Stone – which hasn’t hit the web yet – is an attempt to evoke such a world. Her raison d’etre, throughout a wildly prolific career, has been “to play music that nobody has ever heard before.” This is definitely that: it’s one of her most strangely entertaining albums.

The opening track, Obsius comes across as rapt, still, minimalist phrases in a thunderstorm. That’s because Fujii, one of the most adventurous extended-technique pianists on the planet, is brushing and probably smacking the low strings to get that cumulo-nimbus ambience. The effect is striking, to say the least.

All but two of the numbers here are improvised; in keeping with the album title, most of the tracks reference a specific layer beneath the earth’s surface. The album’s longest and most atmospheric segment, Trachyte, has long, keening tones punctuated by the occasional pluck inside the piano: Fujii is probably getting all that resonance by bowing the high strings, essentially, using a piece of wire wrapped around them.

Fujii can be very funny: Biotite has a spot-on facsimile of a ringtone, a warpily serviceable analogue for a zither-like instrument such as the Korean gayageum, and a rodent gnawing away at something, or so it would seem. She puts aside the strange sonics for the attractively allusive miniature River Flow, then goes back under the hood for Shale, an eerily chiming, microtonal prepared piano piece.

Phonolite is a Pauline Oliveros-esque exploration of piano-body resonance. To Fujii, Lava seems to issue in waves from a deep, dark place – and then spills over into ornate neoromanticism. Icy Wood is just the opposite, spare and disquietingly bell-like.

With Fujii’s picks and scrapes resonating inside the piano, Piemontite Schist also reflects a hard surface. A buzzing motor and insectile swarming inside the piano give way to some deliciously dark chromatics in Chlorite, while Basalt is a rather coy good cop-bad cop tableau.

You think Sandstone would be portrayed by high harmonics falling away? Check! Marble echoes upward from the lows; Fujii returns to spare drops amid stormy turbulence in Ice Waterfall. She concludes with her composition Eternity, essentially a synopsis of much of this utterly psychedelic album.

May 23, 2019 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment