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Satoko Fujii Quartet
Developing a career as a lauded jazz pianist and big-band composer/arranger doesnt appear to be enough for Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. Flitting between Tokyo and New York, Fujii, and her partners and husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, have made a point of involving themselves in projects ranging from traditional acoustic combos to electronica-tinged one-on-one duets she has even recorded on the synthesizer and the accordion.
Angelona is her fourth outing with this quartet and theres still something off-putting about it. Essentially the band is made up of Fujii and Tamura, who may be eclectic, but very much come from the jazz-improv world, and an odd couple of unreformed rockers. Drummer Tatsuya Yoshida is one-half of industrial noise band The Ruins and electric bassist Takeharu Hayakawa, plays R&B as well as improv.
Although evaluating the two rhythm players in a similar fashion to subtler improvisers such as drummer Aaron Alexander and bassist Mark Dresser who also play with the trumpeter and pianist is like comparing sushi and T-bone steaks, Hayakawa and especially Yoshida seem to require repetitive uniformity in their playing. On the six Fujii compositions performed here, they appear to have worked out a template which they apply to each track, merely varying the tempo. A practitioner of funk-styled thumb pops and Hendrixian flanged tone when given space, the bassist at least relates to jazz time. Wedded to bombastic ruffs and rebounds plus a heavy backbeat, Yoshida hardly seems to be on communicating terms with his cymbal, let along the complex counter rhythms jazzers prefer.
But this isnt really a jazz record. Episodic, the defining track is the almost 13½-minute Collage in the Night. With as many disparate variations as a formal sonata, this nocturne begins with Fujii chording impressionistically, though Yoshida cross-sticking accompaniment is more percussive than contemplative. Tamuras pitch-sliding theme statement unrolls on top of an undulating ostinato from the pianist until his bright, emotion-choked lines explode into a flurry of triplets. Moving from skittering over the keys, Fujii dissipate the tension with a gentling pattern of descending modulations shadowed by pumping reverb from the bassist. A concluding leitmotif mixes almost heraldic trumpet with rock-solid drum beats.
Variations of the strategy abound with Tamuras swaggering trumpet lines encompassing plunger work, muted rubato excursions plus a capella growls and sucks making a place for themselves and Fujiis pitter-pattering and determined modal excursions among the popping bass lines and shuffle beats from the drummer. Out of place outside of an arena rock setting Yoshidas extended drum solos drag. When they take place, the pianist often resorts to guitar-like arpeggios and scooping low notes from the pianos bowls to restore equilibrium.
Layered polytonal key excursions characterize Cicada, the sets other memorable composition. Another Tamura showpiece, his soloing begins with hushed frog rivets at the beginning, ends with wheezy whines and rebounds from lonely bugle-like calls to pitch resonation in the middle section. Around him Fujii octave jumps and voices speedy tremolo notes that turns to glissandi key sweeps and eventually agitato cross-handed overtones. Engaged in a sonic hide-and-seek diversion with the rhythm section, the pianist pushes the theme to its climax, avoiding overdone, corrosive drum beats and unvarying rock-style excursions from the bassist.
Proof of Fujiis and by extension Tamuras versatility, if not their sensitivity, Angelona meets its minor goals. But its no match for the pianist acoustic trio or big band work.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. An Alligator in Your Wallet 2. Collage in the Night 3. A Poor Sailor 4. A Journey into the West 5. Cicada 6. A Brick House
Personnel: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Satoko Fujii (piano); Takeharu Hayakawa (electric bass); Tatsuya Yoshida (drums)
In MusicWorks Issue #96
November 21, 2006
SATOKO FUJII QUARTET
Hard, heavy and relentlessly rhythmic, ZEPHYROS is the third outing for pianist Satoko Fujiis part Free Jazz/part Post Rock quartet. Combing the improv capabilities of Fujii and her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura with the more overt rock orientation of electric bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, the seven pieces roar along with the speed and exhilaration of any ProgRock outing.
Trouble is, while the pianist uses her skills and compositional talents to create something more than the standard jazz fusion outing, shes still only using one part of her talents. Like the protagonist in the 1950s film Three Faces of Eve, there are at least three Satoko Fujiis. One adds pounding piano lines to all the tunes she composed here. But the other two -- individually the sensitive stylist who records chamber improv with the likes of bassist Mark Dresser and violinist Mark Feldman and the accomplished composer/arranger who shapes big bands in Japan and New York -- are MIA.
Think of what could be accomplished if the proficiencies of Fujiis other faces were added to the talents here. On this CD, it sometimes seems as if what Hayakawa, who is part of Dr. Umezus jazz-fusion band, and Yoshida bring to the bandstand nearly overpowers the contributions of Tamura and Fujii.
The frantic 15 Minutes to Get to the Station, for instance, which luckily doesnt take that amount of time to play, finds the pianists introductory, single note cadenzas buried beneath the drummers falsetto yelps, yells and near vocal retching. After the honking of a toy plastic horn, the bassist produces jet plane powered licks and the trumpeter introduces smeared chromatic runs. Soon the steady drone of Hayakawas bass gives way to Yoshida, who always seems intent on battering and banging every part of his kit. Even glancing grace notes from Tamura and Fujiis accelerating, double time pressure doesnt see, to faze or even mute his outlay. Finally more moderate piano chording and a sour-sounding brass run brings the percussionist back to earth, but not before Yoshida has screamed a few more time and created busywork with his trap set.
In the same way, First Tango has only a faint Latin tinge and appears far removed from the Argentinean dance rhythm. With a bass guitar lead that resembles Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke at their most ornate, Yoshida adds press rolls that quickly evolve into reverberations that could come from electronic drum pads. After the trumpeter contributing a series of triplets and the pianist Cecil Taylor like-dynamic slurred fingering, a combination of bass and piano accompaniment and a rubato passage from Tamura eventually gives the tune its slight Hispanic cast.
Tamura gets to showcase his muted, electric period Miles Davis licks elsewhere and Fujii does the same with brief melodic parts. However, the most successful compositions are those that are furthest removed from dogmatic rock, jazz and jazz/rock traditions.
Clear Sky -- For Christopher, for one, is performed with a lilt reminiscent of a Kurt Weill cabaret song. It best utilizes Yoshidas oddly metered drumming, shows off high frequency runs from Fujii and allows Tamuras vibrating bent tones to seemingly accelerate the melody as much as express it. Before the initial theme is reprised at the end, the tune has evolved into a jaunty merry go round of trumpet mimicry and bouncing drumbeats.
Flying to the South, which is supposed to be linked to ProgRock, showcases a lyrical piano fantasia that gradually hardens as the trumpeter plays a simple repetitive pattern. Creating multi variations on Fujiis theme the brassman overrides the funky vamp from Hayakawas four electrified strings and Yoshidas high intensity banging.
An interesting funk-fusion variation, ZEPHYROS demands too many hard, McCoy Tyner-like modal vamps from Fujii without allowing her other talents full range. Long time followers may rate it higher. Too often, though, it appears as if she and the rest of the band are trying to act out the first song title, trying to create The Future of the Past instead of going straight to the future.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. The Future of the Past 2. As Usual 3. Flying to the South 4. First Tango 5. One Summer Day 6. Clear Sky -- For Christopher 7. 15 Minutes to Get to the Station
Personnel: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Satoko Fujii (piano); Takeharu Hayakawa (electric bass); Tatsuya Yoshida (drums and voice)
June 14, 2004
Sketch SKE 333032
SATOKO FUJII QUARTET
Libra Records FK-204-007-CD
Brass front lines in a quartet and a quintet setting led from the piano bench are the points of congruence for these sessions. However the sounds of French pianist Sophia Domancichs band range from contemporary to almost-outside jazz. On the other hand, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii is attempting to link her modern, near-outside jazz with avant rock.
The compositions on Domancichs CD comes together more often, using as they do some of the best inside/outside players in France. But at some points during its nine selections, the music becomes a bit too predictable. Braver in her aspirations, Fujii is unfortunately saddled with the drummer from a famous Nipponese rock band who bumps most of the time, rather than swings. Yet, although her session has many awkward moments, its often as listenable as the other, just to try to figure out what her quartet is attempting to do.
Someone who divides her time between Manhattan and Tokyo, Fujii has degrees from both Berklee and the New England Conservatory of Music. During the past decade, she has explored different facets of improvised music, often with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. The two have performed as duo, he has been part of her big band and on her own she has also recorded in the classic piano trio formation. Recently rock rhythms have fascinated her, as MINERVA is the third recent CD shes done with drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. Co-founder of The Ruins, Yoshida is by no means a jazzman; whether hes an improviser is a question thats also unresolved. The quartet here is filled out by Tamura and bassist Takeharu Hayakawa, who besides his improv work with John Zorn and as part of saxophonist Dr. Umezus band in Japan, also plays electric bass in funk and R&B groups.
VULCAN, the first CD by this group was notable for the sheer novelty of Fujii exposing her rocknroll heart. On this one, however, the freshness is starting to wear off since Yoshida appears to be unwilling -- or perhaps unable -- to modify his style the way the other modify theirs to deal with new impulses.
Warp, for instance, begins with the drummer vocalizing the sort of electronically processed ghost-like noises he often exhibits with The Ruins. After Tamuras similarly processed trumpet tones succeeds this, Yoshida smashes out some speedy beats, leaving the groove to be created by Hayakawas foursquare bass work and Fujiis piano explorations. As the theme is smeared out by the trumpeter in bent notes and high-pitched flourishes, the pianist produces a dissonant cascade of notes, gliding over the keys as a countermelody. Tamura may speed up his well-modulated brassy shakes and flutter tongued grace notes to a near blur by the end, but the only rhythm section member varying the underlying vamp is the bassist.
Better is Weft, where Fujiis almost-Chopinesque solo and Tamuras legato muted lines restrain the drummer for a time. Yet once the Latinesque riff appears on the keyboard, the thumping begins. Clipping the keys in a high-intensity rhythmic response Fujii continues at an accelerated pace, with enough space left for an angular bass solo filled with obligatory thumb pops.
Tamura can triple tongue with a Lee Morgan-like vigor and spit out pistol-cracking notes with the best of them, while Fujiis high intensity, syncopated tremolos suggest a highly strung Bill Evan or Paul Bley. But the CD really only come together on pieces like Caught in a web when the couple gets a full buy-in from the other two.
With the buzz of the bass amp following inside piano research and preceding mid-tempo trumpet runs, Tamuras distant brass cries on that composition turn first to pure buzz, then to pure shriek. Thumbtaps high on the bass neck set up a rolling ostinato from drums and what sounds like fists pounding on the piano keys. As the husband-wife teams music turns more spacey, Hayakawa counters with electric bass thumps and Yoshida with rocking snare-drum rhythms. Upbeat, the tune ends with first one short and quick, then an even speedier reprise of the whinnying trumpet, bisected by bass line fuzztones.
Fujii may be trying to forge a new jazz-rock mixture, while Domancich seems to have created a musical scenario that blends Gallic-style Jazz Messengers output with brass band overtures.
Graduate of Pariss Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, the pianist has worked with saxophonists like Steve Lacy and Evan Parker, led her own trio with British bassist and drummer Paul Rogers and Tony Levin, and from 1997 to 2000 held down the piano chair in France Orchestre National du Jazz.
More or less organized as a cohesive spiritual suite, PENTACLE gives the impression that much of it was notated rather than improvised. Certainly the solos and ensemble passages fit together more ball-and-socket than anything on MINERVA. Domancichs conception includes the use of Michael Marres euphonium in the chair filled by a trombone in most bands. A mellow, tenor tuba, the euphonium is usually found in Dixieland combinations except for the hard-bop work of Detroits Kiane Zawadi. Marre, who has been part of the New Jungle Orchestra and played with pianist Mal Waldon, should be so distinctive. Except for the odd passage, most finessed tones here seem to issue from the flugelhorn of Jean-Luc Cappozo, who has been a member of guitarist Raymond Bonis octet and of Hexagone, a brass sextet.
Bass duties are handled by Claude Tchamitchian, who has also played with Boni, trombonist Yves Robert and American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. Drummer Simon Goubert has played in a trio with trombonist Glenn Ferris.
Throughout, the five musicians -- led by Domancichs often mellow and two-handed piano playing, are put through their paces, trying on a variety of influences for size: near-blues, modal, child-like ditties, Cool school and hardish bop. Belchose, a ballad, finds Marre wielding his unusual axe with the facility of a Bob Brookmeyer, spurred on by Gouberts sizzle cymbal and slow-moving brass choruses behind him. Fast, boppish stuff you would expect from Oscar Peterson or Martial Solals more conventional trios, 65er gives full reign to the pianists ability to build up tunelets that turn around on one another, gradually moving up in pitch and speed as Cappozzo arrives to play in unison with her.
On the other hand, the title tune seems to adapt motifs from the 19th century classical tradition and Herbie Hancocks Maiden Voyage in equal measure, then stretch them over skittering half-valve trumpet effects. With Cappozzo in the Eddie Henderson role, the tempo shifts to that of a Ahmad Jamal-like foot tapper led by the pianist, with the drummer emphasizing swinging sizzle cymbals and press rolls. As the tempo accelerates the brass section responds with sharp notes and fanfares.
Completed with a literal 34 second coda, the suites final seconds find the two horns moving in march formation countering Domancichs light, Red Garland-style chording and a final recapitulation of the theme.
High-intensity tremolo work and pinpointed piano fills help Domancich keep the suites basic leitmotif going, though there are times that the build up of brass and rhythm become so overwhelming that it angles the music away from the night club and more towards the parade ground. That shes able to get so many hues from her brass choir is a testament to Domancichs compositional and arrangement talents. Alternately sombre and sprightly, the music on the CD would be perfect jazz festival fare -- maybe it already has been. That way the fervor of the live moment may mask many of the more standard passages.
Each pianist/composer has tried something a little different on her disc and each has been semi-successful. Yet both CDs provide many more -- and newer -- reasons to follow closely anything the two create.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Minerva: 1. Tatsu Take 2. Warp 3. Selvedge 4. Weft 5. Caught in a web
Personnel: Minerva: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Satoko Fujii (piano); Takeharu Hayakawa (bass, electric bass); Tatsuya Yoshida (drums, voice)
Track Listing: Pentacle: 1. Vestiges Pentacote Suite: 2. Dont Even Think About It 3. Pentacôte 4. Polygone de Sustentation 5. Étoile Rouge 6. Belchose 7. 65ter 8. Raoul 9. Final
Personnel: Pentacle: Jean-Luc Cappozo (trumpet, flugelhorn); Michel Marre (euphonium); Sophia Domancich (piano); Claude Tchamitchian (bass); Simon Goubert (drums)
July 14, 2003
LIBRA Records 204-005
Could it be that beneath the demure exterior of jazz pianist Satoko Fujii beats the heart of a heavy metal babe? That could be so on the evidence of this disc.
Fujii, who maintains residences in both Tokyo and New York has become justly famous for her big band work and sensitive small group sessions with the likes of New York downtowners violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Jim Black, plus her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. This CD, on the other hand, finds her and the trumpeter trading licks with electric bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and, more surprisingly, drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, one-half of industrial noise-rock band The Ruins, who also vocalizes lyrics in a language all his own.
Not only that, but Tamura, who has recorded minimalist duets with Black and others, is in full screech mode here. The end result is as if the pianist was in a band completed by supersonic note specialist trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, histrionic punk-jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius and Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
Its Yoshida, whose work is most problematic here. Still operating as one part of a quartet does mute some of his most exhibitionistic tendencies, which he exhibited full force in live duo dates with Fujii. Cutting to the chase: the drummer while inventive and rhythmic and loud -- and boy is he loud -- has no sense of jazz dynamics or time. One doesnt expect him to swing in the approved neo-con fashion, but he could do more to integrate his playing into a band concept. Many times his avant head-banging beat is so overwhelming that a mere sliver of piano sounds pokes through the mammoth percussion overload. His possessed-Linda-Blair-in-The-Exorcist-voice on track one adds gravitas, but not much difference to the music.
Although he has recorded with certified jazzbos like reedists Katayama Hiroaki and Dr. Kazutoki Umezu, Hayakawa is also part of the problem: he seems to be missing an off switch. When he and Yoshida are going full force theres no space anywhere in the music. Those who recall the sound-and-silences interaction Fujii has had with Dresser and Black may wonder if she has been replaced by a doppelganger. Too much cant be made of this, though, since the session is under her name and she wrote all but three of the nine tunes.
As a matter of fact, there are times when she bears down so forcefully on the keyboard with dynamic octaves and Tamura lets loose with cascading clear toned trumpet lines that they could be Myra Melford and Dave Douglas in one of that other pianists most commanding quintet tunes. Still, Yoshidas speed-of-light percussion excursion solo which ranges from smashing the foot pedals on both bass drums, repeated beats on the snares, tom and floor tops and constant use of ride cymbals, crash cymbals and sock cymbals gives a new meaning to the term bombastic. Throughout he -- and to a lesser extent Hayakawa, with his exaggerated strums -- appear to be playing in contrast, rather than in concert with the others.
Hayakawas flat-sounding underamplified bass appears calmer on his duet with the trumpeter. Yet even here he seems to feel that he has to echo every smear, trill and cry that comes from the Tamura. Think of Miles Davis with Marcus Miller or Foley, not Paul Chambers or Ron Carter.
Fujii exhibits a steel hard touch, elongated tremolos and key clipping when she duets with Yoshida. Antsy and more obstreperous than you would imagine in a situation like this, the drummer genuinely seems to be trying to hold himself back, but ends up sounding like hes trying to dig a hole in his snare with his drum sticks. Accompaniment is much more effective earlier on, when the pianists reflective arpeggios are matched by the occasional triangle peal, the shaking of a sound tree, the plink of cymbals, and -- probably courtesy of Tamura -- the clatter of toy tops spinning.
Fujii should be applauded for trying something new with this disc, even if the heavy metal bass playing and telephone book-like banging from the drummer upset some people. Tamuras cat-like bent plunger work does get a work out, and the pianist -- when she can be heard -- offers inventive variations on techniques ranging from New Thing right handed skittles to impressionistic finger exercises. The essence of improvisation is experimentation, after all. But maybe next time, Ms. F. how about doing so with a different drummer?
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. The sun in a moonlight night 2. Incident 3. Ninepin 4. Footstep 5. LH Fast 6. Neko no Yume 7. Explore 8. Untitled 9. Junction
Personnel: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet, toys); Satoko Fujii (piano); Takeharu Hayakawa (bass); Tatsuya Yoshida (drums, voice)
September 30, 2002