February 16, 2010
Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core
Nearly ubiquitous internationally – or so it often appears – keyboardist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura are as likely to be found playing with their American combos or big bands as with a variety of other groups located in their Tokyo hometown.
Open to more musical experiences then those where they call all the shots, husband-and-wife Tamura and Fujii, who plays piano, synthesizer and accordion, may join other groups for short or extended periods. These superior CDs, recorded two years apart, demonstrate their adaptability. Cities results from a two-day Glasgow gig that joined the two with a trio of Scottish improvisers –saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, guitarist Neil Davidson and drummer Tom Bancroft – all of whom are as omnipresent in that city’s music scene as Tamura and Fujii are internationally.
Stone Shift is another matter. Together since the beginning of the century, saxophonist Larry Ochs and dual drummers Donald Robinson and Scott Amendola extend the textures of their Sax & Drumming Core band by adding Tamura and Fujii on a regular basis. Ochs, who wrote all the tunes here, now has more colors for his compositional palate, while making the band name slightly vestigial.
This is especially obvious on the title tune, subtitled “For Kurosawa” – doubtlessly honoring the Japanese director. After the two percussionists move spectrally across the sonic space with thumping patterns reminiscent of Taiko drumming, Tamura’s whinnying tremolos appear in double counterpoint with Ochs’ harsh, near-swallowed reed textures. Fujii plays a dual role – something that may have appealed to Kurosawa – alternating skittering synthesizer pedal point with organically thick piano runs. As the tune slithers along, and both of her keyboards move in a portamento fashion, strangled cries and capillary growls drop from the trumpet, matched by thin, almost-Asiatic repetitive trills from Ochs’ soprano sax. Finally the horns encapsulate their variations by intermingling squeezed reed chirps and burbling brass cries. All the while rough cymbal echoes, rattling snares and spacious rebound from Robinson and Amendola shore up the bottom. Finally, a wash of near-vocal synthesizer textures complete the aural picture.
The introductory “Across From Over”, which clocks in at more than 19 minutes, delineates all this and more, as the resonating cracks, ruffs, slaps and retorts from the dual drummers begin to suggest African and Native American percussion patterns. One man echoes Pharoah Sanders’ percussion-heavy forays of the 1960s, while the other suggests the Universal Indians motifs of the Ayler brothers’ percussionists of around the same time. In fact, intentionally or not, spluttering split tones at the top of Ochs’ range ejaculated with a tough tenor-styled thickness recall Albert Ayler’s soloing, while the trumpeter’s sluicing triplets and bent, whinnying notes are reminiscent of Donald Ayler’s limited style. “Across From Over” shouldn’t be confused with a period-piece salute however. Fujii’s two-handed synthesizer flutters and swift piano glissandi are definitely of this century though, while the tactile press rolls, breakneck ruffs, cross-patterning flams and polyrhythmic time dislocation from the drummers confirms the CD’s 21st Century origin.
Also very much in this century, and a testament to Scottish improvisers new-found sophistication, is Cities. Using only acoustic instruments – except for electric guitar – the nine tracks confirm how seamlessly Fujii’s and Tamura’s skills blend with those of others. Overall, the only downside here would be that the keyboardist’s familiarity with the inner working of the piano and its strings are such that it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint guitarist Davidson’s contributions in the mix. A further anomaly is that a burst of applause at the end of one track is the only one heard – an odd juxtaposition for a session recorded at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts.
Davidson’s below-the-bridge sweeps and angular picking are obvious on “Two Blocks East” where they join with Fujii’s walking bass line and peal point pressure. As her patterning becomes thicker and louder, it’s contrapuntally challenged by reed bites from MacDonald and tremolo tongue motions from Tamura. Bancroft’s drumming has already accelerated from gentle sand-dance-like strokes to thick, resounding thumps in order to match the saxman’s masticated tones. Now the narrative foreshortens to make room for cawing reed lines, vibrating trumpet flourishes, guitar string snaps, pummeled piano runs plus hard ruffs and strokes from the drums. Turning moderato, repeated trumpet measures bring the band back to earth.
Weighty and frail timbres figure into other instant compositions, such as “Oxygenitis” and “Overload”. On the former Fujii’s sharp key stabs accompany light-toned flutters and lyrical vibrations from MacDonald, who almost sounds like a modernistic, Glaswegian Stan Getz here. Furthermore, his delicately tongued alto work includes constructing a buzzing obbligato to Tamura’s whirring grace notes. Then as Bancroft ruffles his drum tops, the pianist splatters note textures and yanks jagged asides from the instrument’s nether regions. More of the same, “Overload” features Fujii’s heavy chording moving crab-like on one line, as MacDonald and Tamura follow a parallel path in double counterpoint. The saxophonist irregularly vibrates and squeaks, while the trumpeter wah-wahs. This ends with both cascading notes. While Davidson’s occasional plinks add an additional sound layer, Bancroft’s rebounds and rumbles keep the improvisational edifice balanced.
Throughout these and the other tracks, the quintet runs through a litany of high and low frequency reed slurs, kinetic chording, internal piano string plinks, brass mouthpiece kisses and any manner of metronomic or broken-time strategies from the drummer. The cumulative results range from shrill to smooth, but few sounds are less than remarkable.
Extending their range and collaborations further, Tamura and Fujii prove that a mixed Japanese-Scottish session is only a bit les memorable than one featuring simpatico Japanese and American players.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Stone: 1. Across From Over 2. Abstraction Rising 3. Stone Shift (for Kurosawa)
Personnel: Stone: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones); Satoko Fujii (piano and synthesizer) and Donald Robinson and Scott Amendola (drums)
Track Listing: Cities: 1. Navigation 2. Parallel Shapes 3. Overload 4. A Strange Prediction 5. Two Blocks East 6. Into the Diversion 7. Oxygenitis 8. How did I get Here 9. Euphoria
Personnel: Cities: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Raymond MacDonald (alto and soprano saxophones); Satoko Fujii (piano); Neil Davidson (guitar) and Tom Bancroft (drums)