Satoko Fujii Orchestra | Zakopane | Libra Records

libra records 216-027

Sachi Hayasaka – soprano & alto saxophone | Kunihiro Izumi –  alto saxophone | Kenichi Matsumoto, Masaya Kimura – tenor saxophone | Ryuichi Yoshida – bariton saxophone | Natsuki Tamura, Yoshihito Fukumoto, Takao Watanabe, Yusaku Shirotani – trumpet | Haguregumo Nagamatsu, Yasuyuki Takahashi, Toshihiro Koike – trombone | Kelly Churko – guitar | Toshiki Nagata – bass | Akira Horikoshi – drums

Recorded and mixed on September 30, 2009 by Katsumi Shigeta, assisted by Shuichiro Terao at Epicurus Studios, Tokyo. Mastered on October 15, 2009 by Scott Hull at Masterdisk, New York City. Executive producer: Natsuki Tamura. Artwork: Ichiji Tamura. Design: Masako Tanaka. Photography: Miho Watanabe

Tracklist: 1. Negotiation Steps [4:54] 2. Desert Ship [8:52] 3. Zee [7:28] 4. Sakura [7:09] 5. Tropical Fish [10:02] 6. Zakopane [7:49] 7. Trout [5:12] 8. Inori [11:40]

Satoko Fujii Orchestra | Zakopane | libra records

Satoko Fujii is one of those people

who seems to record everything she plays – in her case, that’s a good thing. Methodically if not particularly calmly, Fujii has become over the past 25 years simply one of the most important composers of our time: she gives new meaning to the term “panstylistic.” Her own Libra Records imprint has most recently released Gato Libre’s delicious new gypsy-jazz concoction; a surprisingly tuneful if crazily noisy one from her free jazz outfit First Meeting; a typically vivid one by her small combo Ma-Do, and this album by her colossal fifteen-piece Orchestra Tokyo. She first made a big-band splash with her Orchestra New York back in the late 90s: this effort finds her similarly out-of-the-box but considerably different, Kelly Churko’s evil, chicken-scratch guitar skronk frequently adding a snarlingly jarring undercurrent very evocative of Arto Lindsay back in his DNA days. Fujii loves paradoxes and studies in contrasts: as usual, there are plenty of them here, some of them very funny. This ensemble is piano-less, Fujii working exclusively as conductor.

The cd opens with variations on a big bluesy rock riff with boisterous solos from Takao Watanabe’s trumpet and Hakuregumo Nagamatsu’s trombone. The characteristically paradoxical Desert Ship runs a lush, pensively cinematic minor key theme, husband and longtime collaborator Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet a barely caged elephant plotting a quick getaway – and then they’re off on the wings of Sachi Hayasaka’s completely unhinged soprano sax. The third track, Zee, sets gritty, trebly noise-guitar beneath lush, swaying orchestration into a woozy yet disturbed Toshihiro Koike trombone solo. The amusing early morning barnyard ambience of Sakura builds to a rubato, overcast early summer atmosphere, individual voices filtering in and out.

Tropical Fish is even funnier, Ryuichi Yoshida’s baritone sax sprawling and content until the food enters the tank, Koike following in the same vein – and then the rest of the fishes join in a tango that goes from stately to Mingus-esque noir to Jerry Goldsmith cartoonish. The title track works contrasts: a spacious bowed bass intro by Toshiki Nagata against a couple of blasts from the orchestra, then some Bill Frisell-on-mushrooms guitar from Churko that doesn’t take long to go completely unhinged and noisy against big, suspenseful orchestration. The most suspenseful cut here, actually is Trout, a rousing detective theme that’s actually a tribute to a good meal – it must have smelled really good in the kitchen! – Kunihiro Izumi adding a deliciously Middle Eastern alto solo worthy of Lefteris Bournias. They end on a boisterously satirical note, the horns taking a sentimental theme completely over the top with weepy vibrato. As with Fujii’s 2006 live album with her New York orchestra, this one’s going to end up on a lot of best-of lists at the end of this year. New York audiences may not get a chance to see this band, so this album may be as close as you ever come. Fujii, however, gets around (she used to be here a lot more than she is now); watch this space for NYC dates. — Lucid Culture

Satoko Fujii Orchestra | Zakopane | libra records

Photo by Cees Van De Ven

The acclaimed avant-garde pianist-composer conducts her decade-old 15-piece brass/wind orchestra that play a thrilling mix of semi-abstract post-bop, metallic rock and vigorous symphonic jazz. ― Jazzwise Magazine

Recommended New Release. ― All About Jazz New York

Fujii has become over the past 25 years simply one of the most important composers of our time: she gives news meaning to the term ‘panstylistic.’… Fujii loves paradoxes and studies in contrasts: as usual there are plenty of them here, some of them very funny… this one’s going to end up on a lot of best of lists at the end of this year. ― Alan Young, Lucid Culture

Recommended Listening… I listened all the way through completely entranced with texture, soundscapes and some of the most beautiful dissonant harmonies I’ve come across. Truly a masterful accomplishment… show up if you ever see her playing anywhere near you. This music is a force of nature! ― Damien Erskine, Bass Musician Magazine

There is a post-Mingusian freedom about the whole project that is irresistible, balancing rigor and exploration with unflagging conviction and great musicianship. ― Marc Medwin, Cadence

There are several outstanding qualities that emerge in pianist Satoko Fujii’s big band writing. She has an extraordinary sense of color that plays upon the moist exquisiteness of muted shades, as well as recognizing and utilizing the vivid ends of her palette of colors. She also combines ingenious use of the timbre of various elements of a big band – brass, reeds nad woodwinds, strings that replicate the rhythmic nature of the piano and those in the lowest register, and brilliant use of percussion coloring. She combines all of this like a visual artist working on a gigantic canvas, infusing it with unique color and ensuring that it remains wet so that it appears to change shape and hue every time it presents its arresting sight to the inner eye… The result is a dish so wild and flaming that it burns with the fever of artistic fission. ― Raul d’Gama Rose, All About Jazz

For a big band, Fujii provides big gestures in the form of repeated riffs, fanfares, blocks of sound played by one or another section, and much more… Whether they’re flying through a tricky chord structure or overlaying large blocks of slow-moving sound, the band is totally fearless and committed to Fujii’s protean vision, fueled by her ceaseless energy and apparently unstoppable imagination. ― Stuart Kremsky, The IAJRC Journal

This is some of the most penetrating jazz orchestral work you’ll ever hear… Most highly recommended. ― Dick Metcalf, Improvijazzation Nation

Excellent! ― All About Jazz Italia

Free jazz scaling new heights and here to pick up the adventurous listener for a full-blown wild ride. A must… ― Chris Spector, Midwest Record

… the large band has full mastery of Fujii’s challenging but colorful compositions. Fujii, for her part, finds the right players within her imaginative arrangements….Fujii loves to create contrast and achieve communion… new and exciting. ― Victor Aaron, Something Else reviews

Satoko Fujii Orchestra | Zakopane | libra records

It becomes harder to review each Satoko Fujii release

not because there are so many of them but because each one maintains such consistently high quality. She is prodigious in her output, but naturally so, each time signaling she still has a lot more music in her head to come. Each one of her recordings is less about hearing new songs than reentering the next stage of her musicality.

Of course, her songs do fall into song divisions, but there is more connection between her different songs than separation. They seem to be less complete, finished products, than an embrace of the process. Whether in a large group ensemble or a tightly focused quartet, her music is wild, pushy and energized. Like some musical rock climber, she looks for chinks and handholds in the cliff face that have never been grasped before, and then hoists herself and the other members up to the next sonic terrain.

Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble “Watershed” (Libra Records 2011)Fujii’s music, both the roughly designed large group work and the more intense quartet work, taps into levels of improvisational grace that are endlessly fascinating. Whatever background music might be, this is its opposite. She forces you not just to listen, but to listen differently, to be placed into a new relation to the forces of improvised sound, and beyond that, to the very notion of improvisation. That means the listener must listen with an inner capacity for spontaneity, openness and pleasure. The music calls those qualities out of the listener with vitality and humor. Expect the unexpected and you get it, only in even more unexpected ways!

On both of these recordings, Fujii’s music is infused with complex ironies. Her music juxtaposes opposites. She sets rapid shifts in tone next to change-ups in tempo and new emotional directions. The tone can shift suddenly, the tempo scatter in several directions at once and the emotions pull against each other powerfully. The contrasts, though, always show her pleasure in following the music where it wants to go. The enthusiasm is infectious. She pushes the contradictions of jazz–the more controlled certain points become the more free the overall feeling, the more virtuosic the playing the stronger the simple parts, the more broadly conceived the deeper the music can go.

These recordings also showcase intriguing musicians. They have come together to play Fujii’s music not because they aren’t busy themselves, most lead their own hard-to-define groups, but because it is a collaboration of expression and learning. Their collaborations are a constant source of astonishment and satisfaction. Trumpeter Tamura, of course, is always part of the process, and his trumpeting has never sounded better than on these two releases. Fujii’s piano playing bursts through the center of both recordings with fiercely felt energy. And because all this is so intriguingly well done, it’s hard not to like the rollercoaster zing of every tune. — Michael Pronko

Satoko Fujii Orchestra | Zakopane | libra records


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