Lucid Culture


Jazz Piano Icon Satoko Fujii Launches Her Ambitious 2018 Album-a-Month Project

What Wadada Leo Smith is to the trumpet, Satoko Fujii is to the piano: one of the most riveting improvisers to ever play the instrument. Like Smith, her themes can be epic and ambitious to the nth degree, yet her playing is meticulous and nuanced. Where a lot of musicians think in short phrases, Fujii thinks in paragraphs. Her most recent big band album, the harrowingly relevant Fukushima suite, topped the Best Albums of 2017 list here. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. In person, beyond the sheer depth of her music, her indomitable joie de vivre, sense of wonder and daunting chops transcend preconceptions about age. The first release in the series is simply titled Satoko Fujii Solo.

Full disclosure: many of these albums seem to already be in the can. This first one was recorded live in concert in the fall of last year in Yawatahama, Japan. From the first magnificent, moody neoromantic chords of her eight-minute opening number, Inori, the way she distills them down to a simple, catchy three-chord riff and variations is a clinic in tunesmithing. Fujii is also a very site-specific pianist: she feels the room, figures out how long the reverb lasts,  then makes it an integral part of the music. She does that here with stabbing chords that build to a series of leaps and bounds. then a starlit outro. Chopin probably worked up a lot of his material this way.

This is a very otherworldly record, bristling with uneasy, insistently modal tangents. Don’t be fooled by the high drone that opens the second number, Geradeaus. That’s not a defect – that’s Fujii bowing and rustling around inside the piano. She finds a low pedal note, expands around it in an emphatic Keith Jarrett way, goes back inside and adjusts the timbre ever so slightly, then lightens a bit and dances around with uneasy chromatics. The few carefree flourishes turn out to be a red herring as this mood piece turns more savage and enigmatic.

As the twelve-minute Ninepin gets underway, Fujii juxtaposes muted gamelanesque taps on the strings…and what sounds like an electric sander on them. Slowly and methodically, she develops what could be a misterioso Indian wee-hours raga…but cuts off the pedal on each phrase suddenly – wherever this is going, we’re not there yet.  Some of it could be Satie, or Lennie Tristano, severity balanced against tongue-in-cheek humor.

The even longer Spring Storm is all about foreshadowing: stygian low torrents rise and then subside, give way to hints of a clearing, but that big black cloud is going to hang awhile! It’s Debussy’s garden in the hailstorm, but feeling the force of the elements row by row instead of the cloudburst simply shredding everything in its path.

In Gen Himmel, Fujii lets her Mompou-esque belltones linger, flits around under the lid, and cuts off phrases sharply, Intimations of gospel enter the picture, only to be elbowed out by funereal motives and restless close harmonies. The wryly titled Up Down Left Right begins as a funny study in how gremlins can pop up all over the keyboard, then morphs into twisted, bellicose quasi-boogie-woogie  Fujii closes the show by reinventing  Jimmy Giuffre’s Moonlight as a distantly menacing, saturnine elegy. “The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie,” Phil Ochs sang. Boy, do they ever.

Where does this rank in the immense Fujii catalog (over eighty albums)? Probably in the top ten, alongside her magical, mordant duo album with fellow pianist Myra Melford, for example.

Now where can you find this magical album…other than a Soundcloud page? Stay tuned!


March 2, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii Debuts Her Harrowingly Relevant Fukushima Suite in Brooklyn Last Night

Last night in Gowanus, I-Beam was packed to the point where it was impossible to get in the door for the debut performance of Satoko Fujii’s harrowing Fukushima suite. The iconic Japanese-born pianist/conductor explained beforehand that she wrote it not as a historical narrative but as an evocation of her own reactions to the March 11, 2011 nuclear catastrophe – and that it had taken her five years to process. After the show, she added that it was also an indictment of greed. Were all the recurring, chattering saxes and trombones of her Orchestra New York an evocation of conspiratorial Tepco boardroom conversations? Possibly. Fujii and her large ensemble – one of the most distinctive and memorable New York big band jazz units of the past couple decades – are recording this haggardly wrenching, angry, aggressively haunting four-part work today. Considering how much improvisation is Fujii’s stock in trade, even in a big band setting, it will be fascinating to compare the album with last night’s white-knuckle intensity.

The group opened not with a bang but with a whisper. A mist of white noise through reeds and valves becamed labored, suddenly anguished, then back again. up to a long, shrieking, terrified crescendo. As discernable melodies emerged, a handful of themes – a faux fanfare of sorts, a wistful Japanese folk tune and a couple of rather sardonic marches – recurred with variations, in between solo passages and a handful of artful pairings of instruments a la Darcy James Argue. Individual spots from saxes, trumpets and trombones were often tormented, sometimes frantic, juxtaposed with intermittent flashes of warmth and calm – and a couple of macabre Japanese heavy metal interludes fueled by Stomu Takeishi’s looming bass and Nels Cline’s savagely graceful, kinetically looped guitar riffage. In a couple of early moments, Ches Smith’s tersely slinking groove gave way to light electroacoustic percussive touches that seemed as sarcastic as they were comic relief.

The plaintive clarinet melody at the end seemed to offer closure, and a degree of hope. Asked afterward if this was meant to portray relief at seeing that the initial phase of the crisis, with its nightmarish plumes of smoke, was over, Fujii’s eyes widened. “Over?” she asked incredulously. “It’s NOT over!” Like the rest of the Japanese intelligentsia, she’s kept a close watch on what reliable information has leaked out about Fukushima – and she’s since relocated to Berlin. The official line about Fukushima is that the disaster is over and the lethal by-products have been more or less contained. The reality is that the containment vessel in reactor three – the most toxic, plutonium-fueled one – continues to leak cooling water and what’s left of the reactor core into the Pacific. The same may be true of the others, but either way, there’s been no definitive answer forthcoming, something that might be expected when a nuclear disaster is privatized.

Meanwhile, across the ocean, San Diego County in California is now getting its drinking water supply from desalinated Pacific seawater – which, in turns, goes back into the continental US water table. Suddenly Americans and Japanese alike face an identical, deadly nuclear contamination crisis. Can anybody other than the courageous Satoko Fujii say “global extinction event?”

May 18, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Somberly Memorable Final Album from Gato Libre

Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii‘s previous album with their Gato Libre quartet, Shiro, incorporated elements of flamenco, Middle Eastern, Romany and rock music within an improvisational context. The group’s most recent and final album, Forever, often more closely resembles Fujii and Tamura’s Ma-Do ensemble, which uses traditional Japanese melodies as a stepping-off point. This one is sadly notable for being one of the last recordings made by the group’s late bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and for whatever reason has a considerably more subdued, moody ambience. As before, Fujii plays accordion rather than piano here, alongside her trumpeter husband plus acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura.

Much of this is a theme and variations set to slow, rubatoesque tempos; the quartet moving forward methodically if not necessarily with a specific meter. Tamura kicks off the opening number, Moor with a stately, anthemic theme over sheets of accordion and plucking from the guitar and bass, rising more rhythmically and then receding, a portentous overture. Court, the second track, follows the same trajectory to a brooding bass vamp withi eerily, distantly lingering accordion. Hokkaido is a cinematic mini-suite, pastoral accordion handing off to more energetic trumpet and then a flamenco-tinged guitar solo. Moseda follows a warmly bucolic, almost Beatlesque theme and then shifts unexpectedly into darkness with an absolutely delicious, chromatically bristling bass solo – it’s the closest thing here to the material on the previous album.

Nishiogi is another catchy one, pensive accordion over nimbly precise bass and fingerpicked guitar, with a long, expansive but purposeful bass solo. Japan is portrated as nebulous and dreamy but with an elegaic bittersweetness (Tamura and Fujii would soon leave their native land for Germany, perhaps explaining that mood) over a sober, marchlike rhythm. A more nostalgic tone poem, World, follows that, another moody bass solo giving way to flamencoesque guitar. The title track moves back and forth from waltz time, up and down, maintaining the nostalgic feel. It’s a memorable way for both the group and Koreyasu to bow out.

September 14, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bittersweet, Characteristically Tuneful Pair from Pianist Satoko Fujii

With a nod to Dave Brubeck – album title, song titles and general lyricism included – Time Stands Still is the final album by pianist Satoko Fujii’s Ma-Do quartet. Sadly, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu didn’t live to see it released, having teamed with the ensemble – also including Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Akira Horikoshi on drums – to record it in a single session in the summer of 2011. Three months later, he was gone. In the liner notes, Fujii eerily relates a visitation by the bassist in one of her dreams shortly thereafter: he thanked her for the good times and then disappeared.

Like Tamura, his bass work and interplay with the quartet often involves extended technique: scrapy bowing, whispery overtones and glissandos. The two make a double wild card of sorts, whether pairing off or playing against Fujii’s alternately terse and blithely romping lines and Horikoshi’s matter-of-factly spacious, frequently suspenseful presence. Tamura’s phantasmagoria contrasts with Fujii’s precise, briefly bossa-inflected pulse on the opening track, Fortitude. Bouncing, insistent motives give way to a conspiratorial whisper and then a wary, flurrying martial groove on North Wind and Sun; the title track is the smash hit, Fujii’s catchy, staggered hookiness punctuated by circling solos by drums and trumpet.

Rolling Around does anything but – it’s a vehicle for drollery from Tamura and Koreyasu. Set the Clock Back works a vividly austere clockwork theme through cantabile trumpet/piano harmonies down to the spare rhythm section; it wouldn’t be out of place in the Sara Serpa catalog. The quartet revert to a staggered, moody, martial vein on Broken Time, livening it with wry blues allusions and a devious false ending. True to its title, Time Stands Still maxes out the suspense, a sepulchral tone poem building to a gorgeously plaintive, minimalist Fujii solo, ending the album on a particularly dark note.

Intricate, focused interplay is even prominent on Fujii’s latest trio album, Spring Storm, with Todd Nicholson on bass and Takashi Itani on drums A cinematic, forcefully percussive, torrentially Debussyesque rainscape opens the album: even the chaotic breaks are tightly rhythmic. Convection is a study in simple, clear riffage with subtle variations, particularly from Nicholson as he slips from incisive to nebulous. The variations go spiraling into triplets, with a memorably rumbling, polyrhythmic crescendo on the next track, Fuki, followed by Whirlwind, a thinly disguised, unexpectedly jaunty swing tune. The epic Maebure builds achingly from a brooding bass-and-piano moonscape to a punchy, funk-tinged central theme and back; the album ends with Tremble, a gorgeously angst-fueled miniature that ends all too soon. Fans of Fujii’s best small-group work, including her brilliant collaborations with Myra Melford and Carla Kihlstedt, will not be disappointed.

July 14, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orrin Evans’ New Trio Album Is One of the Year’s Best

Pianist Orrin Evans has been on a creative rampage lately. Recorded at a single marathon session at a Brooklyn studio this past February, his latest album Flip the Script, a trio project with Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards behind the kit, does exactly that. It’s his most straightforward album under his own name (to distinguish his small-group work from his role as conductor/pianist with his mighty jazz orchestra the Captain Black Big Band.) To steal a phrase from the JD Allen fakebook (a guy Evans has worked with, memorably), this is jukebox jazz: roughly four-minute, terse, wickedly tuneful, relentlessly intense compositions. For lack of a better word, this is deep music, full of irony and gravitas but also wit. Evans’ work has always been cerebral: to say whether or not this is his most emotionally impactful recording depends on how much Captain Black makes you sweat.

Question, by bassist Eric Revis, opens the album with a relentless unease that will pervade much of what’s to come, the rhythm section walking furiously against an evil music-box riff from the piano: the way Evans shadows Wolfe as the bassist pulls away from the center and then returns is one of the album’s many high points and will have you reaching for the repeat button. The first Evans composition here, Clean House, works gravely bluesy modalities into a dark Philly soul melody: the trio’s simple, direct rhythmic rhythmic insistence on the third verse is a clinic in hard-hitting teamwork. With its apprehensive chromatics, the title track has echoes of Frank Carlberg, Edwards coloring it with counterintuitive accents and the occasional marauding, machinegunning phrase as much as he propels it, something he does throughout the album: fans of Elvin Jones or Rudy Royston will eat this up. The quietly imploring, spaciously Shostakovian minimalism of When makes quite a contrast: Evans’ coldly surreal, starlit moonscape could be Satoko Fujii.

A phantasmagorical blues, Big Small balances slyness against gravitas, Wolfe turning in a potently minimalist solo as he builds to quietly boomy chords against the drums, Evans offering hope of a resolution but then retracts it as the mysterioso ambience returns. The piano’s relentless interpolations build to an artful clave rumble by Edwards and then a false ending on a bracingly chromatic reinvention of Luther Vandross’ A Brand New Day, while TC’s Blues, a diptych, morphs from loungey swing to expansive, allusively shadowy modalities that give Edwards a platform to whirl and rumble on. They follow that with an unexpectedly brooding take on Someday My Prince Will Come, then go back to the originals with The Answer, a clever, considerably calmer response to the Revis tune

The album ends with The Sound of Philadelphia, Evans’ hometown. But this isn’t happy tourists gathered around a bicentennial Liberty Bell: it’s a vacant industrial lot in north Philly next to a diner that’s been closed for years and a house that may or may not have people in it. Evans strips Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s jovial Philly soul tune to the bone, slows it down, takes every bit of bounce out and adds a menacing turnaround. It’s a quietly crushing way to bring this powerful creation to a close. Count this among the half-dozen best jazz albums to come over the transom so far this year, another major contribution from the Posi-Tone label.

July 6, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jazz for Radiohead Fans

What if there was such a thing as warm Radiohead? Or would that defeat the whole point of Radiohead’s music? To what degree is it necessary to rely on coldly slick digital production and mechanical arrangements to communicate a feeling of disconnection and alienation? What if a group managed to recreate the apprehensive, trippy ambience of Radiohead using real instruments instead of computers and electronic effects?

There are two answers to that question. The first you probably know because it goes back a few years – to the Radiodread album by the Easy Star All-Stars. But that band’s roots reggae cover versions are a parody. Those spoofs are as amusing as they are because roots reggae is such a viscerally warm style, 180 degrees from the source material. Then there’s the new Watershed album by eclectic Japanese jazz pianist Satoko Fujii’s Min-Yoh Ensemble. Min-yoh is Japanese folk music; the album is an attempt to explore themes from that tradition. By whatever quirk of fate, or clever design (Fujii can be devious, and is encyclopedically diverse), this album doesn’t sound particularly Asian.

What it sounds most like is Radiohead, beginning with its somber piano introduction, evoking the first seconds of Kid A and moving on from there. That track, aptly titled The Thaw, eventually reaches a distant bustle, with Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet, Andrea Parkins’ accordion and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone all emoting restlessly, separate and alone. The band pair off in twos in the sonic equivalent of split-screen cinematography on the next track, Whitewater, Parkins hypnotically holding to a Beatlesque hook. Where Radiohead use loops, this group will run a circular theme over and over, sometimes with the trumpet, other times with the piano as the other instruments scurry and diverge. The third track has the trumpet holding it down with a brooding riff very similar to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here as the other players go their separate ways, somewhat furtively. The fourth runs a loop until it literally explodes – it doesn’t take long – and then the individual pieces rise and squall over an elegantly murky backdrop. Wary atmospherics grow lively and then subside. The final cut alternates swirls of creepy vocalese with trumpet: it would be a fantastic choice as horror film music as the plot closes in on the killing scene. Of course, evoking Radiohead to any extent at all may not have been part of the plan here: sometimes great ideas are invented more or less simultaneously. Whatever the case, Radiohead fans ought to check this out: the similarities are remarkable.

Fujii also has two other more specifically jazz-oriented albums also out on her terrific little Libra label: the exuberant, boisterously funny and even more cinematic Eto, with her Orchestra New York big band; and Kaze, a a somewhat stark, sometimes abrasive, like-minded collaboration with French trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins.

October 13, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/29/11

Day two in Halifax wouldn’t have been complete without a leisurely hourlong stroll to Fairview Lawn Cemetery and the graves of the Titanic victims – many of them still unidentified – who weren’t so badly decomposed that they were thrown back into the water after checking to see if they had I.D. on them. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album, #580, is an aptly creepy one:

Minamo – Kuroi Kawa

Minamo is Japanese for “surface of the water;” Kuroi Kawa means “black river.” This largely improvisational double-cd duo album by Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and American violinist Carla Kihlstedt is aptly titled: it’s menacing, often impenetrable and sometimes downright macabre. There are playful moments – a musical lolcat, and two sisters struggling to open a window – but most of it is just plain white-knuckle intense. Kihlstedt moves from a whisper to a scream and back again against Fujii’s murderous cascades, ghostly music-box interludes and raw assaultiveness. It ends with long, color-coded suite: the rain-drenched Blue Slope; the head-on attack of Purple Summer; the surprisingly carefree Red Wind, hallucinatory Green Mirage and lethal, relentless snowstorm that winds up well over an hour’s worth of music. It came out on Tzadik in 2009 and still hasn’t made it to the usual sites but is well worth tracking down if raw adrenaline is your thing.

June 29, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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