Satoko Fujii Quartet | Vulcan | Libra Records

libra records 204-005

Natsuki Tamura – trumpet, toys | Satoko Fujii – piano | Takeharu Hayakawa – bass | Tatsuya Yoshida – drums, voice

Recorded at GOK Studios in Tokyo bu Yoshiaki Kondo, April 16, 2001. Mastered at ONKIO Haus by Wataru Ishii, April 23, 2001. Photos by Masahito Asari. Design by Shuichi Yata

Tracklist: 1. The sun in a moonlight night [14:35] 2. Incident [6:02] 3. Ninepin [10:40] 4. Footstep [4:55] 5. LH Fast [2:53] 6. Neko no Yume [3:42] 7. Explore [5:49] 8. Untitled [7:56] 9. Junction [7:15]

Satoko Fujii Quartet | Vulcan | libra records

Satoko Fujii Quartet | from the left: Takeharu Hayakawa, Tatsuya Yoshida, Natsuki Tamura, Satoko Fujii | Photo by Toru Sasaki

In October 2001

Satoko Fujii released two albums simultaneously: a fourth CD of her trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black (titled Junction) and this much more surprising CD with a new quartet. Vulcan showcases the pianist and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, paired with bassist Takeharu Hayakawa, regular collaborator Kazutoki Umezu, and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, the dynamo behind the avant-rock maelstrom that is the duo the Ruins. The promises this lineup holds beautifully come to fruition on Vulcan, a clash of avant-garde jazz and free rock. Yoshida is as powerful and inventive as ever, but fans of Satoko Fujii may feel worried when after pressing the play button “The Sun in a Moonlight Night” starts: The drummer’s trademark vocal improvising is not the most reassuring greeting for the unsuspecting listener. But don’t worry too much; after all, the project is led by the pianist, who composed most of the material (Tamura contributes two pieces). The aforementioned opening track is the best example of fusion on the CD. Afterwards, things drift more toward Fujii’s usual grounds. “Ninepin” and “Junction” are also featured on this album’s twin brother, but the former piece is much more satisfying here with an inspired bass introduction. The title track from the other CD turns into ferocious fusion and may very well be the most eloquent proof of Fujii’s talent as an arranger. The rhythm section lets loose, almost breaking into an incarnation of the Ruins for a brief moment. Tamura sounds especially at ease in the more extreme passages. Vulcan is hotter than anything Satoko Fujii recorded before, closer to her recordings with her orchestra than her trio sessions. Strongly recommended for those who think they can handle it. — François Couture

Pianist Satoko Fujii’s latest CD

starts out with a droning chant from drummer Tatsuya Yoshida that sounds like some bizarre ancient ritual honoring the god Vulcan, after whom the CD is titled. After four minutes, though, the quartet kicks into a Spanish-like vamp that starts hammering the anvil of free jazz with wild abandon. Well, the label “free jazz” fits this quartet only in part, a better term might be “intense jazz.” Most structures are abandoned. Most listeners will find there are few obvious, clear melodies at the start. Indeed, on several cuts, it feels as if the recording started mid-jam. But that’s good, very good, since all the unbound energy allows wondrously experimental forms to emerge out of the chaos. The quartet spares us all the predictable fluffing around that usually distracts from getting right to the molten core of creative impulse.

Fujii’s husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, wastes no time jumping in to pull and push his lines to find out just how flexible they are. Fujii’s startling bangs and smashes on piano drive the group as furiously as any bebop comping. But, on many tunes, the lovely, “Footstep” for example, she slows down to play around with a lightness of touch meandering along the keyboard. The powerful bass playing of Takeharu Hayakawa gives all the tunes a solid back on which the other three can hang their ideas. Though the first three tunes aim for a raucous drive, and achieve it, many of the other tunes are unafraid of a fragile, delicate disjointedness. At points, the disparate elements converge into recognizable forms—a classic march, traditional swing, stately bolero, or driving free jazz solo–only to have the centrifuge button hit again and the parts spun out in all directions. It makes for fascinating, though hardly comfortable, listening.

“Vulcan” stands above most examples of free jazz by carefully and skillfully re-prioritizing musical elements. Energy, directness, and sheer pleasure in the aleatory are emphasized over considerations of swing, coherence, niceness and audience reaction. The music on this CD, like Fujii’s live concerts, is challenging (i.e., difficult to listen to), frenetic (i.e., confusingly arranged), ambiguous (what’s she trying to say?), and very, very powerful. — Michael Pronko

Satoko Fujii Quartet | Vulcan | libra records

 

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