Natsat MTCJ-3011

Hard, heavy and relentlessly rhythmic, ZEPHYROS is the third outing for pianist Satoko Fujii’s 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, she’s 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 Fujii’s other “faces” were added to the talents here. On this CD, it sometimes seems as if what Hayakawa, who is part of Dr. Umezu’s 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 doesn’t take that amount of time to play, finds the pianist’s introductory, single note cadenzas buried beneath the drummer’s 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 Hayakawa’s 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 Fujii’s accelerating, double time pressure doesn’t 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 Yoshida’s oddly metered drumming, shows off high frequency runs from Fujii and allows Tamura’s 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 Fujii’s theme the brassman overrides the funky vamp from Hayakawa’s four electrified strings and Yoshida’s 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)