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.

It’s 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 doesn’t 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 there’s 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 Those who recall the sound-and-silences interaction Fujii has had with Dresser and Black may wonder if she has been replaced by a doppelganger.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 can’t 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 pianist’s most commanding quintet tunes. Still, Yoshida’s 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.

Hayakawa’s 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 he’s trying to dig a hole in his snare with his drum sticks. Accompaniment is much more effective earlier on, when the pianist’s 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. Tamura’s 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)