Satoko Fujii | Gen Himmel | Libra Records

libra records 201-033

Satoko Fujii – piano

Recorded on September 21, 2012 by Mike Marciano at Systems Two, New York. Mastered on January 17, 2013 by Max Ross at Systems Two, New York.

Tracklist: 1. Gen Himmel [2:32] 2. In The Dusk [4:29] 3. Hesitation [2:24] 4. Take Right [8:04] 5. Ram [3:00] 6. A.S. [4:00] 7. Dawn Broun [2:54] 8. Summer Solstice [4:19] 9. I Know You Don’t Know [4:48] 10. Ittari Kitari [1:57] 11. Saka [2:31] 12. Der Traum [4:32]

Satoko Fujii | Gen Himmel | libra records

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer SATOKO FUJII

as one of the most original voices in jazz today. She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a band-leader who gets the best collaborators to deliver,” says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on nearly 60 albums as a leader or co-leader, the Japanese native (now based in Berlin) synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock and Japanese folk music into an innovative music instantly recognizable as hers alone.

Since she burst onto the scene in 1996 after earning her graduate diploma from New England Conservatory, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music. Her latest ensemble, the Satoko Fujii New Trio featuring bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani, is the first piano trio she has led since her trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black last played together in 2008. The all-acoustic Satoko Fujii ma-do quartet, together from 2007 to 2012, showcased the latest developments in her composition for small ensembles in an intimate acoustic setting. Another acoustic quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble with her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, and accordionist Andrea Parkins is dedicated to developing written and improvised music in the collective spirit of Japanese folklore music. Fujii also ted an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins from 2001 to 2007.

Fujii has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles. Since 1996, she has released a steady stream of acclaimed releases for large ensemble and in 2006 she simultaneously released four big band albums: one from her New York ensemble, and one each by three different Japanese bands.

In addition to playing accordion in Tamura’s Gato Libre quartet, she also performs in a duo with Tamura, as an unaccompanied soloist, and in ad hoc groupings with musicians working in different genres. Her special projects have included collaborations with ROVA saxophone quartet, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, pianist Myra Melford, and Junk Box, a collaborative trio with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck. In 2011, she and Tamura formed Kaze, a collective quartet with French musicians: trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. She has also toured and recorded with saxophonist Larry Ochs’ Sax and Drumming Core, and appeared on albums by drummer Jimmy Weinstein, saxophonist Raymond McDonald, and Japanese free jazz legend, trumpeter Itaru Oki.

“Whether performing with her orchestra, combo, or playing solo piano, Satoko Fujii points the listener towards the future of music itself rather than simply providing entertainment,” writes Junichi Konuma in Asahi Graph. She tours regularly appearing at festivals and clubs in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Europe. Her ultimate goal: “I would love to make music that no one has heard before.” 5/25/2013

Satoko Fujii | Gen Himmel | libra records

Manželský pár – trumpetista Natsuki Tamura (1951) a klavíristka Satoko Fujii

(u žen prý se rok narození neuvádí) – má na svém kontě už takřka nespočet kompaktů, na kterých oba přesvědčují o svém skladatelském či improvizátorském umění a hráčské brilanci. Od duetů přes soubory různorodého složení i až protikladného žánrového směřování po velké japonské či mezinárodní orchestry, to je zcela neobvyklý diapazon aktivity, v němž navíc nenalézáme hluchá místa. Dvě alba, která souběžně nahráli a vydali na svých perfektně vybavených Libra Records, jsou tentokráte však věnována jejich sólové prezentaci.

Tamura na osmi skladbách svého CD Dragon Nat nemusí hýřit ekvilibristikou, aby dokázal, že je mistr svého nástroje. Je střídavě ostýchavě zadumaný, slavnostně zvěstovatelský, hrčivě bručounský, hovořivě vřeštivý, odměřeně hartusivý, výbojně rozmáchlý i zavinovaně potichlý, dokáže svoji škálu rozvinout do rozčechraného rozvířena i večerkového přitlumena s efektem širodálavy, někdy skladbu vyzunkne jako pohár saké, jindy si dětinsky rozmazlenecky zašpásuje, ještě jindy si světácky zakumštuje s rozdvojkou trubky a hlasu plus zaperkusování, což může následovat šamanské zaříkávačství nebo brebentivá roztopášnost. Nejde však pouze o Tamurovo hráčské umění, jako skladatel ovládá nejrůznější finty od jednosměrné probouzivosti přes rozškálované vypravěčství po neholedbavou potichlost, ale do plynulé melodičnosti se nebojí zasáhnout výkřikovostí, až výbřeskným výřevem nebo skučivým povytím. Je to navrátivé album, plné uvážlivé krouživosti i jerichového vyvolavačství. Je věru sváteční (viz název poslední skladby – Matsuri).

Kdo viděl a slyšel Satoko Fujii při jejím pražském vystoupení na mezinárodním festivalu jazzového piana, který s takovou důsledností nabízí Petr Pylypov, odhadne, oč půjde na dvanácti zastaveních Gen Himmel. Vlastně neodhadne, protože na tomto albu je japonská klavíristka ještě zperfektněleji protikladná, dokazuje, jak umí propojit velebné uvelebování klávesnice s rozcuchaným strunozvučením nitra klavíru, jak po (nez)řízeném rumraji naváže rázně a pevně, a přitom citlivě klávesobraním, ve kterém je každý tón jako vypulírovaný, jak dokáže posluchače oslovit tu soumračným ztišením, tu kulminující přepršností a neponechá ho vydechnout. Dosavadní taylorovsko-bleyovské inspirační zdroje (samozřejmě při zachování naprosté svébytnosti!) se tu přehrnou do postmonkovského rozevírání témat, podepřených rytmicky s pichlavostmi a šramoty hloubkových sond do nástroje. Klavíristka lehounce přechází do nezbedné hravosti či prskoletného výtržnictví, aby je prostřídala prostopášnou vřavností, především však v její hře dominuje dvojrozměrnost, což znamená, že hlavní melodickou linii dopuje doplňky, protiřečenostmi, závažnost popichováním, protože má vždycky něco v záloze, co ozvláštní celkové vyznění skladby. Umí být vroucná, ale neleká se oduševnělého rabijátství, je vypravěčsky omamná, leč nelení bez otálení přejít do podtemperovaného hazardu nebo rumplujících výstřelností, je uvážlivě zasněná i přebíjivě zvonivá a někdy mi její projev připomene pohádku jen s pozměněným názvem: Tóny, z klavíru ven!

Nepotřebuje ke svým neobvyklým melodicko-rytmickým propojením dodávat nadbytečné efekty, naopak: nic „nerozcamrá“, nemíní schválnostničit, protože to nepotřebuje. V její hře je sice zasuto i cosi z japonské hudební tradice, je to však ústrojně překryto světem, tedy jejím hudebním světoběžnictvím, jež dotvrzuje zmíněnou svojskost. Až po závěrečný přeryv snu, nezakončenost Traumu, vešedšího v mžiku do tmy a prázdna. Tím spíše si chci Gen Himmel zopakovat.

A tak lze pouze dodat, že obě sólové desky jen znovu potvrzují výsostnost tohoto japonského páru, který v těchto chvílích v nejrůznějších seskupeních objíždí celý svět – od berlínských pódií až po Zornův Stone. Myslím, že by se Satoko Fujii měla do Prahy co nejdříve vrátit, tentokrát s manželem nejenom v obecenstvu a s přídavnými muzikanty, které dokáže usměrnit ke svému obrazu. A k potěše publika.– Z.K. Slabý

Satoko Fujii | Gen Himmel | libra records

Satoko Fujii has recorded something approaching 60 albums

since she first came on the scene out of New England Conservatory in 1996. That is remarkable in itself, but of course it is the very personal, original quality of her music for ensembles large and small that has made those many albums worthy of our attention.

For the recent album Gen Himmel (JASRAC 1330800) she pairs down to just herself and a piano. In it we get a very direct version of her music as she hears it and communicates it to all of us. What perhaps is remarkable is how, in the course of this long program, she channels her own muse with little direct reference to a “jazz tradition,” or any wider sense to a “solo piano tradition.” There are haunting refrains, both jazz-inflected and new music-classical elements, mood moments, prepared piano sequences that evoke at moments the Japanese koto, but none of it references the direct influence of player-composer-improvisors that have preceded her.

What that comes down to is that you must approach Satoko and her music with a refreshed mind and the expectation that she will fill your ears with music that comes directly and pristinely out of her own creative being.

And that is indeed the case on Gen Himmel. This is music that has freedom and compositional structuring in more or less equal measure. It is avant without trying to “take it out” so much as explore ideas. With Satoko Fujii’s fertile musical imagination that turns out to be a delightful proposition.

More I need not say, except by way of the invitation to listen. This one will repay your attention with a wealth of good sounds. — Grego Applegate Edwards

Satoko Fujii | Gen Himmel | libra records

 

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2 thoughts on “Satoko Fujii | Gen Himmel | Libra Records

  1. A solo album tends almost inevitably to focus on instrumental chops rather than compositional skills. And that’s the way it is on Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii’s third unaccompanied outing, following Sketches (NatSat, 2004) and Indication (Libra, 1997), although she shows herself to be blessed with both. Compared to the exuberance and spirit of her group work with outfits as diverse as Ma-do and Kaze, she presents what a very intimate and introspective side of her personality. In the liners Fujii recounts that she has been inspired by the passing of several close friends, which might explain the bright but melancholy overall nature, low key and more understated than we have come to expect from her.

    Slower rubato pieces dominate, though one of her most distinctive traits, the delving into the innards of the piano to explore unconventional timbres, is still very much in evidence straight from the off, as she rubs strings on the title track to create shimmering sheets of rumbling metallic hums, squeaks and plucks, before changing direction completely by pitching stately hymn like chords against an anarchic expressionistic build up. Interior manipulations play a role too in “Take Right” as Fujii starts with a gamelan-flavored Morse code. However thereafter, proceedings take on a more familiar energetic cast, as she juxtaposes a repeated melodic phrase against a trademark rolling ostinato.

    At times she resembles her countrywoman and fellow pianist Eri Yamamoto in her insistent rhythmic savvy allied to a deep soulfulness. In a program of 12 short cuts, other high points include the warm, sparkling “In the Dusk,” “Dawn Broun” where staccato ascending arpeggios and glissandi threaten to stretch into all out freedom, but keep reassuringly returning to the initial ascending motif, the joyous rippling “Summer Solstice” with prepared keys accenting the percussive patterns, and the closing “Der Traum” in which Fujii’s singing line pierces an elegiac stasis begetting more drama prior to the final theme statement which ends suddenly leaving a question mark in mid-air. Whatever the query, the answer has to be “more please.”

  2. Satoko Fujii’s notoriety is based on her originality, energy, and an unmatchable sense of fearlessness and adventure in the creation of music. As a leader of numerous ensembles—duos, trios, quartets, and big bands—she is a gregarious and generous spirit. Her music ebbs and flows, a moment of captivating serenity followed by a burst of a clamorous, sometimes riotous action. A gentile and pretty interlude followed by a flailing riot, with each band member giving as good as he or she gets.

    But when Fujii goes solo—and it’s not often happened in her near- 20-year career, on Sketches (NatSat, 2004) and Indication (Libra, 1997)—she reveals a more introspective side.

    Gen Himmel, conceived by Fujii to honor a number of her friends who had passed away over the past few years, finds the pianist in the solo setting once again, where she is at her most gorgeously lyrical. It is music that is by turns stately, reverent, happy, spacious and majestic. Her early classical training comes to the fore in cerebral segments, and there are moments of melancholy and reserve. Space is a factor, as is deliberation. There are intensely focused forays into idiosyncratic complexities that only Fujii could conjure, in this very personal journey.

    The 2:30 title tune (“Gen Himmel” is German for “Toward Heaven”) opens with a brief intro that sounds like subtle electronics, but is actually Fujii’s use of metal-headed percussion sticks to coax subtle sounds from the piano strings—a technique she uses often, and one that draws the ear. Its spare and deliberate chords, like a church house sendoff, usher the listener off on the journey toward peaceful eternity.

    Fujii employs dark tones on “In the Dusk.” The same can be said for “Hesitation,” while on “Take Right,” Fujii again employs piano preparations, altering the instrument’s timbre by placing objects on the strings. Fujii is masterful at this technique, which gives her artistry a mysterious, unearthly quality.

    Fujii, in her ensemble work, can be described as a musical daredevil. Fujii solo, as on Gen Himmel, is pure, finely focused beauty, from beginning to end.

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