Live at the Big Apple in Kobe
Libra Records 204-50

Apparently part of a multi-year plan to expose herself musically in just about every configuration is this first-ever session by a new quartet featuring Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. She’s already someone whose leadership of big bands in Europe, the U.S. and her home country is only outnumbered by membership in the many groups in which she’s involved from duos to quartets. As with the majority of her other ensembles, Mahobin or magic bottle, features her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and this one also includes Danish saxophonist Lotte Aker and New York-based electronics expert Ikue Mori.

Here Mori specialized electronics frequently take the role usually reserved for percussion with echoing beats. At the same time she consistently uses the buzzes, jitters and jangles from her machine to create a wash of blurry tones on which the others’ foreground tones are highlighted. After a few minutes Fujii sporadically takes a similar role herself. With pressure points on the pedals and agile inner piano string plucks she doubles or creates equivalent lower pitches. Meantime Anker’s part is expressed through watery and spluttering split tones and soaring textures, while the entry of Tamura with sour, off-color notes from the bottom of his range occasionally touches the saxophonist’s part with inventive counterpoint. Creativity is expressed during the almost 42½ minute “Rainbow Elephant” and given additional seasoning with the brief “Yellow Sky” , although on the first track’s mid-point a crescendo of contrasting motifs from the piano and electronics suggests outer-space beings have invaded the conservatory. This tension-filled symmetry doesn’t last and motifs from all four players soon splinter into gouty snorts and split tones from the saxophonist, fractured basso tones from the trumpeter, clapping piano runs and the wave form equivalent of brush work from a percussionist. Outer space-styled swing is even suggested as Mori’s static and crackles output connective arpeggios that resemble both synthesizer sweeps and organ tremolos. Eventually Fujii concludes her part with carefully positioned near-notated music patterns that placed alongside ghostly reed tones and what could be finger cymbal echoes confirms the originality of this polyphonic program. In its unique harmony the CD seems Oriental and Occidental, modern and traditional and space-like and grounded at the same time.

If this live session is any indication, the pianist has created yet another configuration with which remarkable music can be created.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Rainbow Elephant 2. Yellow Sky

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Lotte Anker (tenor saxophone); Satoko Fujii (piano) and Ikue Mori (electronics)