Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss – alto saxophone | Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby – tenor saxophone | Andy Laster – bariton saxophone | Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, Dave Ballou – trumpet | Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, Joe Fiedler – trombone | Satoko Fujji – piano | Stomu Takeishi – bass | Aaron Alexander – drums
Recorded on September 28, 2007 and mixed on July 3, 2008 by Mike Marciano at Systems Two, New York. Mastered on July 14, 2008 by Randy Merrill at Scott Hulle Mastering, New York. Executive producer: Natsuki Tamura. Design: Masako Tanaka.
Tracklist: 1. Summer Suite [39:02] 2. Sanrei [9:06] 3. In The Town You Don’t See On The Map [6:14]
Continuing the stream of recordings in her 50th birthday year
pianist Satoko Fujii presents Summer Suite from the New York big band, as well as Sanrei (BKM, 2008) from the Nagoya band. These two are in a series of thirteen big band releases dating back to Jo (Buzz, 1999)—besides the forty-odd other recordings she has lead or played on. You do the math.
Fujii is a complete modernist, bound by no rules, eclectic in predilections and influences, and yet with a strong romantic streak that is closely tied to her perceptions and inspirations of nature. While this connection can be seen by the titles of many of her compositions, many times their sound is surprisingly not pastoral and as far away from the sound of someone like Maria Schneider as can be imagined.
In Summer Suite, the New York band swaggers confidently, in both the scored sections as well as the solos, through the title tune which lasts just over thirty-nine minutes. The sound, anchored by bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Aaron Alexander, feels closely related to Fujii’s “rock” quartet in its rhythmic power and intense electric bass bottom as heard in Bacchus (Muzak, 2007).
The music opens with the feeling of nature awakening, produced by many different independent threads including a heroic line—played in unison by much of the band—interjected in rubato time. This eventually becomes the theme played in varying speeds, pushed by a coalesced rhythm section. The piece develops organically and has some glorious free sax and trombone soloing, supported by a growling bass and slashing drums. The theme reappears a few times and provides a skeleton on which the music is built. This is wonderful music, making its length completely arbitrary.
“Sanrei” continues the heroic mood, with brilliant brass choirs answering a theme that manages to be simultaneously bluesy and oriental. Played very much behind the beat and contrasting with strict drums and more growling bass, the theme is taken far afield by the soloists. Nine minutes of glorious music.
Bacchus is actually referenced by “In The Town You Don’t See On The Map,” which is very recognizable by its jaunty bass vamp. How Fujii adjusts her music to the differing forces, in her quartet and big band, can be easily heard with the two versions.
While the logistics of coordination for both rehearsal and recording must be extremely daunting for a big band, Fujii pulls it off with an ease that is almost shocking. That the New York band enjoys playing her music is audible throughout Summer Suite, and a live performance would border on the ecstatic. — Budd Kopman
This big band packs fierce solo power, but Fujii flexes all that muscle masterfully. Her suite runs the loud-quiet, sweet-sour gamut, a model of tight composition and daring arrangement, driven by a rhythm section that hews close enough to the beat and a trio of trombones that do the heavy lifting. ― Tom Hull, The Village Voice
The leader’s intimacy with the idiosyncratic tonal personalities of her personnel and formal control over the raw materials is apparent… The sections interpret the scored passages with a breathe-as-one quality, gestating, propelling and sustaining far-flung solos. ― Ted Panken, DownBeat
If you know the present NY jazz scene, you would be surprised with its gorgeous and unerring line up. Most of them are notable musicians who are active as bandleaders. There might be not anyone else who has the ability as a composer and a leader to form and organize a big band with these musicians except her.” — Koji Murai, CD Journal
Summer Suite features her Orchestra New York, a 15-piece band composed of some of the finest players in the Big Apple. Her voicing for the horns and reeds are rich and with great dynamics. ― Richard Kamins, Hartford Courant
39 minutes of dazzling movement…moreover it goes on to two complicated short pieces, all by Fujii. She moves in her own direction more than ever without any hesitation. — Shiro Matsuo, Music Magazine
This acclaimed Japanese pianist continues her adventurous but cohesive orchestral writing centered round a 40-minute suite. ― Short Cuts, Jazzwise
Now this is a big statement. At just a shade over 39 minutes, Satoko Fujii’s Summer Suite employs everything from more traditional sounds to Ayler-esque squeals of passion. — Mark Saleski, Jazz.com
The music on Summer Suite bristles with energy that makes this one of the most vital big bands recording today. ― Robert Iannapollo, All About Jazz
I love Satoko’s strong charts and engaging harmonies for all of the reeds and brass with inspired solos from the tenor sax and trombone, but it is the strong ensemble sections that really stand out… Her great New York Orchestra has not played in New York for quite a while, we can only hope they have an opportunity to do so in the not too distant future. In the meantime, you can get this treasure and their many layers of talent. — Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
Kind of like a later day Carla Bley kicking it out with her version of JCOA, Fujii takes a new tack with her long running crew and serves up a big, bold work that gives everyone a chance to grab a solo and let the summer sun shine on them. A well-defined work that leads you along more than carries you or lets you drift through it, Fujii is in control throughout and knows how to set the mood, the pace and the scene for a cerebral jazz outing. — Chris Spector, Midwest Record
Her large ensemble writing encapsulates a wealth of historical innovations. The muscular riffing of Count Basie, sophisticated harmonies of Carla Bley, zany irreverence of Frank Zappa, and spasmodic freedom of Sun Ra are all fused into a wide-ranging aesthetic… Fujii reinvents the big band tradition, maintaining structural focus with intricate charts and tight arrangements, while still enabling her soloists maximum freedom of expression. Ripe with layers of sonic detail and textural nuance, Summer Suite is an endlessly revealing album, providing new rewards with each listen. — Troy Collins, All About Jazz
These works do require close listening – they’re not background/elevator music – but your spirit will be rewarded as you listen to her spirit emerge in a most shimmering fashion! A most wonderful menagerie of compositions that is enjoyable enough to rate it MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for jazz fans who want something new and exciting to listen to. — Dick Metcalf, Improvijazzation Nation
Satoko Fujii | Photo: Tomasz Woźniczka / Izabela Lechowicz
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)
In addition to numerous small combos, industrious Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii leads four different Orchestras (Kobe, Nagoya, New York, and Tokyo). In honor of her fiftieth birthday, Fujii has released a total of seven albums in 2008. The latest installment includes Chun (Libra), an intimate duet with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, and two big band records, Sanrei (Bakamo), by her Orchestra Nagoya, and Summer Suite, the seventh recording by her Orchestra New York, a veritable super group of Downtown improvisers.
Her large ensemble writing encapsulates a wealth of historical innovations on Summer Suite. The muscular riffing of Count Basie, sophisticated harmonies of Carla Bley, zany irreverence of Frank Zappa, and spasmodic freedom of Sun Ra are all fused into a wide-ranging aesthetic. Her cantilevered horn charts employ lush harmonies, thorny contrapuntal themes, and spasmodic free-form interludes in equal measure, yielding a kaleidoscopic panorama.
The rhythm section features drummer Aaron Alexander and fretless electric bassist Stomu Takeishi, who provide an elastic foundation for the massive horn section and individual soloists, as they run through a gamut of tempo changes and rhythmic contours, from careening free bop to rubato excursions that shimmer with crystalline detail. Fujii magnanimously conducts and plays arranger’s piano, in order to spotlight her stellar soloists.
The majority of the album is dominated by the titular 39 minute suite, which ebbs and flows dynamically between myriad modes of expression, ranging from pulverizing tutti sections and chaotic collective improvisations to finely honed ensemble arrangements and spacious introspective passages.
Highlights abound throughout the suite. Ellery Eskelin’s incisive tenor testimonial, Andy Laster’s boisterous baritone excursion, and Joey Seller’s unaccompanied trombone cadenza are all notable, as are trombonist Joe Fiedler’s confrontational multiphonic discourse with the Orchestra, Herb Robertson’s unearthly trumpet abstractions, and Tony Malaby’s scorching tenor climax. Interspersed among these vibrant interludes, the horns elicit swirling themes and brawny riffs as they soar over rollicking rhythms and shifting tempos.
The remaining two pieces each offer another facet of Fujii’s expressive potential. The cinematic “Sanrei” is a noir-inflected study in extremes that features animated solos from Joe Fiedler and Oscar Noriega—Fielder’s garrulous trombone sputters through a Sabbathy dirge before Noriega’s searing alto soars over a surging, metallic surf vamp. The ebullient closer, “The Town You Don’t See On The Map,” is an effervescent travelogue that alternates spirited duets between the acerbic saxophones of Briggan Krauss (alto) and Ellery Eseklin (tenor) and the dynamic pairing of Andy Laster’s brash baritone and Natsuki Tamura’s avant-gutbucket trumpet.
Fujii reinvents the big band tradition, maintaining structural focus with intricate charts and tight arrangements, while still enabling her soloists maximum freedom of expression. Ripe with layers of sonic detail and textural nuance, Summer Suite is an endlessly revealing album, providing new rewards on each listen.