Junk Box | Cloudy Then Sunny | Libra Records

libra records 203-019

Natsuki Tamura – trumpet | Satoko Fujii – piano | John Hollenbeck – percussion

Recorded on December 20, 2006, and mixed on July 16, 2007 at Systems Two, NYC. Engineer: Joe Marciano. Assistant engineer: Max Ross. Mastered by Scott Hull at Scott Hull Mastering, NYC on September 26, 2007. Artwork: Ichiji Tamura. Design: Masako Tanaka. Executive producer: Natsuki Tamura.

Tracklist: 1. computer virus [2:13] 2. chilly wind [6:47] 3. back and forth [4:52] 4. night came in manhattan [2:24] 5. chinese kitchen [4:11] 6. multiple personalities [6:57] 7. opera by rats [5:17] 8. alligators running in the sewers [5:39] 9. soldier’s depression [6:26] 10. one equation [6:57] 11. cloudy then sunny [4:21]

Junk Box | Cloudy Then Sunny | libra records

Satoko Fujii | photo by Krzysztof Penarski

I had been writing music by traditional notation

on music paper for a long time. And I found there were somethings I could not explain this way. Traditional notation is great to indicate notes pitch and their length but there are many different ways to play what is written, and the essence of music is not about notes pitch and their length. Of course there are many ways of notation other than that of traditional music, especially after the 20th century.

When I had a first recording session with Junk Box for our debut album “Fragment,” I wanted to try my own way of musical notation which includes words and some graphics. The concept is composed improvisation (I call it Com-Impro) which is improvised music with some direction composed. I was very excited about how well the music came out! We were 100% free to play any notes to express the compositions. So we used our own way but we all were going in the same direction.

This new music was played with some concept. The pieces are composed but we improvised them freely to makeI would love to continue this project, both recording and performing.

I really hope you enjoy this new music. — Satoko Fujii

Junk Box | Cloudy Then Sunny | libra records

John Hollenbeck | Photo by Peter Gannushkin

The piece de résistance of her recent releases is the new Junk Box

with Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and John Hollenbeck on percussion. The first Junk Box CD was already something special, but this one goes even further, even deeper into avant-garde territory, with lots of extended techniques used on the various instruments, but they create music, not just sounds, there is a story to tell, sometimes full of anguish, sometimes dark, full of drama, with truckloads of expressiveness. The brightly shining wheat field on the cover, with the red flames under a dark sky truly reflect the nature of the music. It is all about contrast, about freedom and control, about darkness and light, speed and slowness, rhythm and counter-rhythm, but then with the dynamics of fire and passion to move the whole thing forward, and it’s in all this heavily accentuated lightfootedness that the true art of this band emerges.

“Back And Forth” brings a great counterpoint duel between piano and trumpet, echoing, and changing the theme, in a nervous, repetitive tone at first, then while Tamura gets a clearer and higher tone, the piano becomes all chaotic and dissonant. And although Fujii composed and leads the trio, she offers the space to the two other musicians, with Tamura clearly receiving the spotlight.

In sharp contrast to the Gato Libre album, Tamura goes at times totally beyond any conventional trumpet sound. Listen to his extreme shouting out his anguish on “Soldier’s Depression”, coming close to the human voice, in pure agony, as a matter of scene-setting, (together with Hollenbeck’s military march), but then he moves on to sadness while Fujii and Hollenbeck accentuate, creating a weird canvas around the lead voice of the trumpet. On “Chinese Kitchen”, Tamura’s trumpet is screaming and howling, while Fujii works the inside of her piano and Hollenbeck manages to provide percussive hits without any discernable pattern. On the last track, “Cloudy Then Sunny”, the tune starts with music close to the most hectic moments of the opening track “Computer Virus”, again totally disorienting with low piano rumbling and screeching trumpet, yet the piano calms him down (although not willingly from what you can hear), his trumpet-playing is suddenly clear as a bell, pure and almost classical, with Fujii playing impressionistic romantic accompaniment, and then, just as you think that darkness and pain have been conquered, the track ends with some hair-raising trumpet sounds, giving the effect of the hand coming out of the grave at the end of a horror movie.

This is not easy listening, but it is very rewarding. The trio manages to create something unusual with known and unknown ingredients, creating things on the spot with lots of complexity and evocative power. There aren’t many who can manage this. Next to being the pièce de résistance of her recent releases, it’s also a tour de force. It’s a rare artistic achievement. Brilliant.

When John Zorn turned 50, he got the brilliant idea of releasing a kazillion records to celebrate the occasion. Satoko Fujii has also reached that age now. Congratulations! There is nothing she needs to copy from John Zorn, except for her to release a kazillion CDs to celebrate the occasion.

And as a wish, well, that her CDs get better known, but that will come with time. By 2087 for sure. You can bet on it. Stef

Junk Box | Cloudy Then Sunny | libra records

Natsuki Tamura | Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Junk Box | Cloudy Then Sunny | libra records

 

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4 thoughts on “Junk Box | Cloudy Then Sunny | Libra Records

  1. The ever-prolific Satoko Fujii is celebrating the year of her 50th birthday by doing what she does ever year: touring, composing and recording relentlessly. The latest round of releases from Libra—the imprint she runs with trumpeter Natsuki Tamura—include new recordings by her longstanding trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black and a more recent trio with Tamura and drummer John Hollenbeck. Tamura might not match his wife’s speed of release, but his records are just as satisfying, as evidenced by a new release from his band Gato Libre.

    The trio with Dresser and Black uses some of her jazziest writing and playing, full of jumping lines and lyrical passages. More recently, the group has been expanded to include Tamura on trumpet, but here they are back to their original lineup and it’s in the classic piano trio setting that the influence of Fujii’s former teacher Paul Bley comes out the most. While Trace a River sounds like the band’s previous work, here perhaps it is more contemplative, softer and more pastoral at times. Dresser, of course, is more than able to fulfill his role here, generally keeping close to the pieces and supporting Fujii beautifully. The band’s edge comes from Black’s drums. He’s just as tight in the pieces, but pushes to an unexpected degree. Where this could have been a brush-and-cymbal affair, Black underlines rather than accentuates, solidifying the melodies.

    For a player with as many projects as Fujii, it’s hard to tell when something’s a one-off meeting or a new band. So it’s a happy surprise that Junk Box has come around with a second release, Cloudy Then Sunny. The first disc by the trio of Fujii, Tamura and Hollenbeck was a fun meeting even if it didn’t quite gel. Here, however, they feel like they know what they’re dealing with. The pieces (all Fujii’s) are less formalized than her trio compositions, sometimes even comic. Tamura likes to play the imp and Fujii seems to compose to that here. Fujii’s bands are always centered on rhythm, but Junk Box is her most open project, with piano and drums falling back and forth on the rhythm while Tamura’s muted sobs and sputtered screams wander inbetween. It’s an unusual side to the pianist and an enormously fun one at that.

    Fujii and Tamura seem to give each other permission to act out in their respective bands. Tamura—historically the quirkier of the two—has grown downright respectable with his Gato Libre project, playing much more inside than with Junk Box. And likewise he throws Fujii into unexpected situations in his groups, having her play synthesizer in past groups and, with the Spanish-inflected new band, accordion. With the band’s first release in 2005, it seemed another trick up Tamura’s sleeve, but now they’re up to three with Kuro and the records keep getting better. The sweet, plaintive melodies are swapped between the leader and acoustic guitarist Norikatsu Koreyasu, whose playing shines throughout. There’s still playfulness to his composing, but the performance is daringly traditional. Tamura’s new trick, apparently, is that he’s not trying to trick anyone at all. Tamura and Fujii are always worthy of attention, but this latest round is an especially good harvest.

  2. Along with Trace a River (Libra, 2008), this is the second concurrent release by the prolific Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii in honor of her fiftieth birthday. Cloudy Then Sunny is the sophomore follow-up to Fragment (Libra, 2006), the debut recording of Junk Box, a collective trio that features Fujii’s most probing explorations alongside the highly expressive trumpet playing of her husband, Natsuki Tamura, and the ever resourceful percussionist John Hollenbeck.

    Fujii and Tamura have honed their tight-knit rapport over many years. Their conservatory education notwithstanding, their stylistic diversity and technical virtuosity, like Hollenbeck’s, seems limitless. Together, they make an empathetic and mercurial trio.

    Relaxing her control as principle composer, Fujii eschews traditional notation for this project, providing graphic scores and text to guide the trio through what she terms “com-impro” (composed improvisation). Reaching beyond mere notes into pure texture and mood, the three musicians interpret similar concepts from different perspectives, lending a cohesive sensibility to their free explorations, culminating in rich collective storytelling.

    A writer of tuneful melodies, Fujii improvises pungent arpeggios and cyclic chord patterns, providing a rhythmic and harmonic underpinning for the trio. She embraces the tonal possibilities of playing inside her instrument, much like Tamura, who expands his range through extended techniques and subtle electronic effects that give his horn an unearthly tonality. An unfettered stylist in the mold of Lester Bowie and Bill Dixon, Tamura’s opening screed on “Opera by Rats” is frightfully acerbic, while his intro to “Chilly Wind” showcases a whispery tone over Fujii’s icy, scrawled accents.

    Hollenbeck utilizes a wide array of devices, ranging far beyond the color palette of a typical trap set. His nuanced accents on “Multiple Personalities” contrast with the brash flurries of kinetic pummeling that conclude “Alligators Running in the Sewers.”

    Fujii and Tamura interlock in furious contrapuntal discourse on “Back and Forth,” while Tamura elicits paint-peeling cries on “Chinese Kitchen,” accompanied by Fujii’s thundering chords and Hollenbeck’s percussive tempest of skittering xylophone sweeps and ratcheting, machine-gun bursts of noise. A conceptual tone poem, “Soldier’s Depression” is a mosaic of militaristic press rolls, pensive piano filigrees and ghostly, howling trumpet lines that gradually morph into plangent cries and whispers.

    Cloudy Then Sunny incorporates a variety of textures, ranging from caustic to ethereal, with the title track segueing between both. Junk Box is one of Fujii’s most sonically intriguing ensembles—dark, but not oppressive. Their efforts are worthy of investigation by those with open ears.

  3. Satoko Fujii is a prolific composer. Her writing has manifested itself in several projects used to launch her music, Junk Box being one of them. This is the group’s second recording and it sees an expansion of the concept she calls composed improvisation, or “Com-Impro,” that appeared on its first recording, Fragment (Libra, 2006). It is her form of musical notation that includes writing and some graphics, leaving the musicians to use any notes to express the compositions and free to improvise as they like.

    The concept is interesting, though it has been worked on before through different approaches and points of view. Technique may have its fill, but what counts is how the music is finally translated in terms of creativity.

    Fujii, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck work well together. They take Fujii’s themes and shape them into odd structures that keep evolving into different patterns. Yet, even as they shape them in terms of individual vision, there is a logic and cohesion to the development of the theme.

    Several of the tunes rise from a discernible melody. Fujii writes catchy themes, but the greater ambit is improvisation. Hollenbeck sets up a nice tempo on “Chilly Wind,” while Fujii details the melody at length. Tamura, however, skittles all over, his trumpet convoluting and snaking lines. Fujii and Hollenbeck up the charge and the atmosphere turns electric.

    Tamura and Fujii set up a conversation on “Back and Forth.” Tamura is animated while Fujii goes in the other direction, playing open-ended, reflective notes. She is not one to be hurried—that is until Hollenbeck adds some energizing percussion. Once more the tempo takes off and all three are animated.

    The rumbling of drums and percussion, the scraping of the piano strings, the breathy swoosh of the trumpet, all testify to “Alligators Running in the Sewers.” Once the head has been established, Fujii brings in the melody as Tamura squeezes notes from the trumpet and drops brawny yelps.

    “Con-Impro” gets its due, but intuition and empathy have the final say.

  4. Junk Box is the name of another group configuration lead by pianist Satoko Fujii, this time in the form of a trio with her husband and musical compatriot, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, and percussionist extraordinaire John Hollenbeck. Audacious and challenging, Cloudy Then Sunny is their second release following the well-received Fragment (Libra, 2006).

    Approaching her fiftieth birthday this year, Fujii continues to explore new sounds and methods of musical communication, always expanding her means of expression and communication. Fujii composes all of the music for Junk Box, but uses a notation she calls “composed improvisation,” which includes words and graphics. While musical notation is but the beginning of the performance for any kind of music, the separation between the written and the performed is even greater in jazz. Thus, “Com-Impro” merely carries this concept further, giving more freedom and placing more responsibility on the players.

    As with the trio on the simultaneously released Trace A River (Libra, 2008) (Fujii, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black), Fujii has absolute faith in the abilities of her musical partners to take her suggestions and run with them, both individually and as a group.

    Since the players are free to play any notes and/or sounds they wish in expressing Fujii’s suggestive notation and, furthermore, react to what the others are doing accordingly, Cloudy Then Sunny can be a challenging listen for anyone with preconceptions. However, for those willing to take the trip along with Junk Box, to listen with the same open ears and mind with which the music was created, the rewards are great and the experience liberating.

    What is immediately apparent and impressive is the extraordinary range of sounds that Tamura produces from his trumpet, which almost belie the fact that there are no electronics or overdubs. “Chilly Wind” is full of the sounds of the wind whipping through the trees or across the plain, while “Chinese Kitchen” builds to an extremely dense climax as Tamura draws shrieks, moans and screams from his trumpet that seem impossible.

    All of the sounds however, not only from Tamura, but also from Fujii as she plucks and scrapes the piano strings or crashes the keys, serve the music, at times more as emotional sound than as melodic music. Hollenbeck is with them for every moment, mostly making emotional percussive sounds rather than providing rhythmic accompaniment.

    Although many of the tracks sound like what one would imagine from their titles (“Opera By Rats,” “Alligators Running In The Sewers”), Fujii has admitted that many times the pieces are entitled after they are recorded—she says that Tamura is particularly good with finding the right words. “Soldier’s Depression” is actually touching and deeply moving and could be considered the “ballad” of the record.

    Cloudy Then Sunny has an immediacy and a vibrancy that comes directly from the trio’s instantaneous interactions, decisions and choices. Once inside its world, the music is extremely powerful.

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