Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss – alto sax | Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby – tenor sax | Andy Laster – baritone sax | Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou – trumpet | Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, Joe Fiedler – trombone | Satoko Fujii – piano | Stomu Takeishi – bass | Aaron Alexander – drums
Recorded on January 15, 2013 by Sal Mormando at Kaleidoscope Sound, Union City, New York. Mixed on August 26, 2013 by Mike Marciano at Systems Two, New York City, NY. Mastered on October 4, 2013 by Max Ross at Systems Two, New York City, NY. Executive producer: Natsuki Tamura. Artwork: Ichiji Tamura. Design: Masako Tanaka.
Tracklist: 1. Shiki [36:34] by Satoko Fujii 2. Gen Himmel [6:29] by Satoko Fujii 3. Bi Ga Do Da [10:06] by Natsuki Tamura
Composer-pianist Satoko Fujii
always writes large ensemble music that’s celebratory, eventful, and sweeping in scale. But for this album, she wanted to make “something beyond. I don’t know how I can explain. I wanted to paint a picture that extends beyond its canvas. I composed for life, which has many stages and changes and dramas.” “Shiki,” the nearly forty-minute magnum opus that comprises two-thirds of this CD, does indeed reach for “something beyond.” In the hands of the Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, the big band she’s maintained for recording projects since 1997, the music rises off the pages of the score and confronts us, consoles us, challenges us to feel and to contemplate ultimate questions. Rooted in life, Satoko’s insights into the human condition are passed through her unique artistic vision and back into our lives to enrich us with its wisdom. “Shiki” is a Japanese word that translates as “four seasons” in English and the music is as changeable as the wind and weather. “I wanted a title that suggested change,” she says. “I think we human being also have seasons in our life.” The composition is one of her grandest pieces of musical architecture. Soaring arches of melody are supported by great anchoring columns of orchestra chords and a subtly textured floor of ensemble drones underpins much of it.
The soloists furnish private rooms in their own style. There’s a marvelous flow through and within this vast and towering structure. Preconceived and improvised parts intersect and interact in a wide range of combinations from unaccompanied solos to collective improvisations, from completely written passages to integration of one or more soloist and composition. Then after contemplating the turbulent nature of life, Satoko turns to a more spiritual meditation with “Gen Himmel” (German for “toward heaven”). Previously recorded as the title track of her 2013 solo album, the piece is dedicated to Norikatsu Koreyasu, the bassist in Satoko’s ma-do quartet and Natsuki Tamura’s Gato Libre, who died unexpectedly in 2011. “After he passed away, I began to realize that death is a natural part of life and it is not so dark,” Satoko says. That realization results in a composition of serene power and joy. The simple, prayerful melody emerges out of a quiet group improvisation, like the sun rising over a field of birds, and grows warmer and brighter as soloists improvise continuously around it and the drum thunders out a multi-directional free pulse. The band plays Satoko’s music with total empathy and precision. Several in the band are founding members and many have remained with it for more than ten years, so they know her music well. “This New York orchestra is like miracle for me,” Satoko says. “These great musicians give me such inspiration to compose and contribute their own creativity as well. When I compose, I think about the band sound and it brings out some much of my own creativity. I grow as an artist each time I work with them.”
Satoko doesn’t play piano on her two compositions; she confines herself to conducting duties. But if she isn’t heard, her guiding intelligence is felt throughout the performances as she directs the band, shaping the written music so it conforms to the soloists’ improvisations. “Many of my orchestra pieces have cues and they need to occur at certain points to make the music happen,” she explains. “Because there is so much improvisation, I really need to listen to the music carefully to cue the band at the right moment.” However, she is a jubilant and explosive presence on Natsuki’s “Bi Ga Do Da,” a piece that moves the album from the sublime to the ridiculous, or maybe the sublimely ridiculous. With its frenetic energy and goofy vocalizations from the entire band, it’s a high-spirited, fun piece infused with Natsuki’s deadpan irony. It is by turns silly and grandiose, absurd and serious, and in it’s own way, it is as much about the vagaries of life as Satoko’s pieces. “Hallelujah, life is absurd,” Natsuki’s music seems to say. To which Satoko’s music replies, “Hallelujah, life is beautiful.” — Ed Hazell
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)