Satoko Fujii ma-do Quartet | Heat Wave | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2008 | MW 806-2 | CD

Satoko Fujii – piano | Natsuki Tamura – trumpet | Norikatsu Koreyasu – bass | Akira Horikoshi – drums

Recorded April 19, 2008 at Epicuru Studios, Tokyo.

Tracklist: 1. Heat Wave [05:29] 2. Beyond The Horizon [08:58] 3. Mosaic [07:20] 4. Ring a Bell [06:57] 5. Tornado [06:43] 6. The Squall in the Sahara [07:23] 7. Amoeba [05:02] 8. Spiral Staircase [04:25] 9. To the Skies [03:04]


This is Satoko Fujii’s 40th disc

as a leader or co-leader and she continues to impress us all with each and every disc she puts out. Satoko is joined here by her most constant collaborator, trumpet great Natsuki Tamura. Her bassist, Norikatsu Koreyasi, has worked with her in small groups before and the drummer plays in one of Satoko’s Japanese big bands.

The title track opens this extraordinary disc with some majestic piano and trumpet over a sublime free-flowing groove. The powerful rhythm team do a great job of fleshing out Satoko’s sprawling, modal-sounding piano. Each of the nine pieces provides a different challenge or structure. At th beginning of “Mosaic”, Satoko plays inside the piano and rubs the strings with an object. Soon the songs difficult structure provides a challenge for the entire quartet. The ever-incredible Natsuki Tamura takes the first incredible trumpet solo that must be heard to be believed. When Satoko takes her explosive solo the massive rhythm team erupts powerfully and tightly around her. Most impressive! “Ring a Bell’ begins with a stark, somber unaccompanied trumpet solo which is soon joined by haunting bowed bass. I love Akira’s ultra-subtle drumming, just cymbals and a bit of hands-on-drums. The gorgeous and poignant melody is played superbly while Satoko mutes the strings of the piano while she plays with rhythmic grace. The aptly titled, “Tornado” explodes open with some high flying trumpet while the rhythm section spins underneath. This outstanding piece is broken into sections, the free section midway is especially outstanding and balanced just right between charted and uncharted territory. Just when you think that you have this band pegged, they break into “The Squall in the Sahara” which has a charming theme in the beginning and end with some more incredible free solos from the piano and trumpet in between.

This band’s name, like it’s music, has many layers. Ma-do means “window” in Japanese. But “ma” also means “the silence between notes.” Fujii chose the name to show how the music opens to the outside (just like window) and that silence can have more meaning than notes. In an acoustic setting, the group’s absorbing improvisations explore subtle textures and tone colors, using silence and group interaction to build brilliant collages of sound, melody, and rhythm. They have released two CDs, Heat Wave (2008) and Desert Ship (2010).

Satoko Fujii ma-do | from the left: Akira Horikoshi, Natsuki Tamura, Satoko Fujii, Norikatsu Koreyasu |Photo by Masayo Nabeshima

This disc captures the magic that this quartet exudes and reminds me of their amazing set at Guelph: rich and probing in every way. Again, Satoko Fuji and Natsuki Tamura offer one of this year’s best discs. — BLG, Downtown Music Gallery

This band’s name, like it’s music, has many layers. Ma-do means “window” in Japanese. But “ma” also means “the silence between notes.” Fujii chose the name to show how the music opens to the outside (just like window) and that silence can have more meaning than notes. In an acoustic setting, the group’s absorbing improvisations explore subtle textures and tone colors, using silence and group interaction to build brilliant collages of sound, melody, and rhythm. They have released two CDs, Heat Wave (2008) and Desert Ship (2010).

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2 thoughts on “Satoko Fujii ma-do Quartet | Heat Wave | Not Two Records

  1. As her fiftieth birthday nears, pianist Satoko Fujii continues to release recordings at a furious pace. However, despite always extending her compositional and improvisational language, her musical personality remains recognizable by its unique mixture of melody, rhythm, freedom and structure.

    An amazing release, Heat Wave presents a new band named the Ma-Do Quartet, consisting of players from other bands which Fujii has played in or led—trumpeter Natuski Tamura, Fujii’s husband and musical collaborator; bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, a member of Tamura’s band Gato Libre; and drummer Akira Horikoshi, a member of Fujii’s Tokyo Big Band.

    This band and its music sounds like a conscious summation of Fujii’s most recent efforts in both composition and performance. Elegantly fused are the qualities of Fujii’s other Japanese quartet, in its power and intensity; her Junk Box trio with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck, in its use of unconventional compositions requiring the musicians to give them import; her American trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, for their pure improvisatory prowess; and Tamura’s Gato Libre, for its delightfully surprising and touching melodies.

    This synthesis sounds entirely natural, and is represented by the quartet’s name of “ma-do,” which means “window” in Japanese, with “ma” also meaning the “silence between the notes.” What Fujii is getting at with this name is not only that this music “opens to the outside,” but also that listeners can see its insides, as the players negotiate the notation and react to it.

    This music has an exquisite liveliness. It literally breathes, changing shape, texture and color continuously while it develops. The excitement created is palpable as the quartet reacts to what is written, with the result being three-dimensional structures of avant-garde classical grace that mutate, turning on a dime into heavy funk or literally exploding.

    While Fujii relates that she is writing more and more, and that she needed musicians who could work from a written score, the only obviously composed parts here are those when a difficult line is played in unison. The gallery of sounds that Fujii imagined and scored is astounding. She takes great advantage not only of Tamura’s advanced techniques of moans and screams, but also his softer, Gato Libre side. Koreyasu and Horikoshi are locomotives one second, only to drop to shimmering cymbals and arco groans at another.

    Around, under, and through everything, Fujii displays her enormous range of piano playing, from the ferocious to the picturesque. She also uses the inside of the piano extensively, producing sounds that blend exceedingly well with Tamura and the others, as in a section near the end of “Beyond The Horizon.”

    Aurally stunning, complex and yet deeply and emotionally involving, Heat Wave is a new high for Fujii. She has created, and continues to extend, her own sound world.

  2. Heat Wave is the fourth record released in 2008 featuring the prolific and talented Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. In honor of her 50th birthday, she organized an intensive release schedule, issuing three albums so far on her Libra imprint, including Trace a River with her veteran trio featuring bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, Cloudy Then Sunny with the collective trio Junk Box, as well as appearing on her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura’s recent Gato Libre album, Kuro.

    Ma-Do is Fujii’s newest ensemble, specifically chosen to interpret her heavily notated compositions. An intimate acoustic quartet with a vast dynamic range, this line-up lacks the electronic excess of her more rock oriented quartet and eschews the open-ended excursions favored by her longstanding trio in favor of thematically concise improvisations.

    Fujii is once again joined by Tamura; from intimate duos to big band settings, their empathetic rapport has developed over the years to virtually telepathic levels. Their rhythm section consists of bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, from Tamura’s Gato Libre ensemble and drummer Akira Horikoshi, courtesy of Fujii’s Tokyo big band. Fujii regularly breaks the quartet into trio, duo and solo formations, which allows space for her compositions to breathe, as they veer from ghostly serenity to vibrant expressionism.

    Fujii’s knack for writing infectious harmonic counterpoint, staggered polyrhythms and interlocking arrangements is exemplified by the spirited interplay of the dramatic title track and the pseudo-baroque “Spiral Staircase.” A diverse stylist, Fujii’s full range of expression, from romantic neo-classicism to strident angularity comes to the fore. A perfect foil, Tamura’s own contributions range from mellifluous contours to coarse fragments. Navigating these episodic compositions, the rhythm section alternates between supple accents and funky downbeats.

    A wide range of tonal colors are expressed with extended techniques on “Beyond The Horizon” and “Amoeba.” On the later tune, Fujii plays directly on the strings of her piano to harp-like effect, Tamura blows ghostly howls and Koreyasu bows sonorous harmonics while Horikoshi scatters scintillating accents, all unified by the specter of a melancholy melody.

    “Mosaic” and “The Squall In The Sahara” demonstrate the ensembles dynamic potential, as they build from lush lyricism to harrowing angularity, while the aptly titled “Tornado” summons a vortex of blustery turbulence. The group even embarks on a Middle Eastern travelogue on “Ring A Bell,” conjuring exotica-tinged modality.

    The lilting anthem “To The Skies” provides a final reminder of Fujii’s tuneful capabilities as Koreyasu bows coarse long tones accompanied by Fujii’s dulcet piano filigrees while Tamura plies tender refrains, closing the album on a bittersweet note.

    Another superlative recording from Satoko Fujii, Heat Wave is a perfect introduction to the work of one of today’s most vital composers.

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