Satoko Fujii/Ikue Mori + Natsuki Tamura

Prickly Pear Cactus
Libra Records 203-062

Kaze & Ikue Mori

Sand Storm

Circum-Libra 205

Pre and post Covid-19 sessions that feature pianist Satoko Fujii and Ikue Mori’s electronics illuminate the ingenuity that improvised musicians can bring to programs no matter the circumstances. Sandstorm was recorded after a European tour where the New York-based laptop artist was a guest with the decade-old Kaze band featuring the pianist and her fellow Japan-native trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, plus two French associates, trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. Created post-pandemic in a manner that threatens to become standard, Prickly Pear Cactus’ 10 tracks were created by the exchange of sound files from Mori with Fujii – and Tamura on four tracks – who then mixed and edited their contributions with her original sounds.

Crackling and live sounding, the quintet CD starts with slurping and squealing brass textures, a piano drone and slap drum beats and extends the selection with dial-twisting whooshes from Mori and climaxes with a razzing trumpet and drum popping march theme. Similar thematic material is played out during the CD’s seven selections with variables tempered by the familiarity quartet members’ have with each others’ skills. A culmination of this is the concluding “Nor Soir”. Programmed electronic whizzes and moist echoes are packed in alongside chromatic trumpet runs and drum top claps. Before Tamura creates a distinctive disruption with a sequence of gurgling, croaking and yodeling throat sourced nonsense syllables, the track is a showcase for Fujii’s echoing keyboard triplets and inner piano soundboard echoes, a trope she often uses. That motif shows up again on “Noir Poplar” as aggressive patterning and repetitive key clips are framed by narrowing dual trumpet slurs and sparking vibrations from Mori’s equipment, with the narrative finally shifting to march tempo. Meanwhile before echoing drum pitter-patter signals a break Tamura spends most of “Kappa” a capella, emphasizing hand-muted snorts and squealing surges.

These variables came into play a few months later on those tracks when Tamura added brass prestidigitation to Mori’s programming and his partner’s piano lines. Although his output is usually confined to decorated whooshes, flutters and the occasional plunger emphasis, “In The Water” offers wider scope. Overcoming kazoo-like snarls from the trumpeter and Mori’s ring modulator echoes and mechanized gizmo squeals, Fujii creates an adagio-paced progressive melody that overcomes these incursions. Otherwise cannily programmed tracks highlight both the challenges set up and the cooperation attained between the New York and Kobe sound extensions. A tune such as “Guerrilla Rain” for instance judders on dynamic pressurized keyboard accents and outer-space like splashes from the electronics until it detours into rolling piano arpeggios. Throughout, Fujii’s display of spontaneous and dynamic strokes tempers synthesized squeaks and wriggles from Mori often producing a careful and metronomic movement. This delicate balance is best displayed on the intricate “Overnight Mushroom” where buzzing echoes from the computer brush up against delicate piano patterning that takes the form of shaded chord progressions. Although Fuji produces string-like sound waves to relieve pressure from disruptive programming variations, she maintains the narrative until the end.

While the discs confirm how glorious it would be to see/hear Fujii and her groups in person, the Mori-Fujii collaboration presents a pandemic stopgap that should satisfy most music followers.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sand: 1. Rivadoza 2. Poco A Poco 3. Kappa 4. Under The Feet 5. Noir Poplar 6. Suna Arashi 7. Noir Soir

Personnel: Sand: Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Satoko Fujii (piano); Peter Orins (drums) and Ikue Mori (electronics)

Track Listing: Prickly: 1. Prickle Pear Cactus *2. Sweet Fish 3. Guerrilla Rain 4. Mountain Stream * 5. Overnight Mushroom 6. Empty Factory 7. In The Water* 8 .Turning 9. Muddy Stream* 10. Sign

Personnel: Prickly: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet)*; Satoko Fujii (piano) and Ikue Mori (electronics)