Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble

Fujin Raijin
Victo cd 105

By Ken Waxman

Using the simplified scales and rhythm of Min-Yoh, or Japanese folk music, as her touchstone, pianist-composer Satoko Fujii has created a six-tune CD somewhat removed from the jazz big band and small combo sessions that characterize most of her burgeoning catalogue.

While simplified, folk structures don’t have to be simplistic. In fact, the sonic patterns from Fujii’s internal-strings-and-surface-keys inventions; the rasping, plunger tones and screeching brass lines from trumpeter Natsuki Tamura; and accordionist Andrea Parkins pumping the bellows of her instrument so that it alternately resembles an electric organ or a triggered sound source, are not unlike the strategies used in Fujii’s other compositions. Only trombonist Curtis Hasselbring’s pedal-point lowing or chromatic grace notes usually maintain the tunes’ basic melodiousness

Thus, to take one instance, traditional folk song, “Kariboshi Kirituta” and Fujii’s own composition “Slowly and Slowly” differ only marginally in execution. On the later the ornamental performance resembles a courtly dance rather than gagaku, with its climatic thick, metronomic piano chords and finely shaped, inconclusive brass tones. Similarly, the former tune mates a stretched, keening vocalized line with a harsh cascade of piano dynamics and long-lined, crying, cave-like echoes from mid-range trumpeting.

Putting her own modern and distinct handprint on traditionally oriented material is the pianist’s overriding achievement with Fujin Raijin.

In MusicWorks Issue #100