Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (2015)

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Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu
If ever there were a restless musical spirit, it would be pianist, composer (and occasional accordionist) Satoko Fujii. The Japanese artist has issued more than sixty recordings in settings from solo to full orchestra and most everything in between. While she demonstrates virtuosic straight-ahead balladry on occasion, her preference has long leaned toward unorthodox improvisation. Fujii has recorded with Tin Hat's violinist Carla Kihlstedt, pianist Myra Melford and fronted a trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. Much of her best work has been in collaboration with her equally inventive husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura.

Fujii's previous quartet ended its run with the excellent album Time Stands Still (Not Two Records, 2013) and the sudden death of bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. The pianist regrouped under the banner of the Satoko Fujii New Trio bringing in bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani and recorded the well-received Spring Storm (Libra, 2013). Retaining Nicholson and Itani, the group now expands to a quartet (Satoko Fujii Tobira) with the addition of Tamura and the release of Yamiyo Ni Karasu.

Whether Fujii and Tamura work together or apart, nothing is predictable about the direction they may choose. With their Gato Libre group, the focus is primarily on more lyrical aspects while other outings are distinctly free and unstructured. They excel at both forms and on Yamiyo Ni Karasu managing that compelling combination along with harder-to-define grey areas. A frequent presence on the New York scene, Nicholson has worked with the violinist Billy Bang, saxophonist Frank Lowe and bassist William Parker. Itani was part of an iconic Japanese new wave group, The Plastics.

"Hanabi" is an intriguing study in contrast with Fujii and Tamura building in opposite directions. The trumpet produces wafts of sound at the opening, later joined by Fujii providing sharp melodic contrast. As the two move in and out of focus, Fujii progressively adapts a percussive style similar to Cecil Taylor while Tamura travels through transitional phases of noise-to-melody. Nicholson provides understated segues and the piece is further disrupted by Itani's emphatic drumming. More discordant is "Run After A Shadow" where Nicholson leads in with the bowed bass, switching to pizzicato for a confrontational one-on-one with Fujii.

The tracks alternate between trio and quartet with Tamura being the rotational player. He returns on "Fuki" in an explosive way, with high-pitched bursts and Nicholson matching him on speed and dexterity. The polar opposite of "Fuki" is the subsequent "Wind Dance," opening with Fijii's elegiac piano. "Centrifugal Force" again reverts to an absence of melody before "Potential Energy" brings all the disparate pieces together in a harmonious, moderate tempo composition. The title track ends the collection, the English transplantation meaning "The Crow in the Dark Night." Conveying the appropriate imagery, it moves across a blank canvas accented with noise and melody.

Yamiyo Ni Karasu—like much of Fujii's work—is demanding. Accessibility and noise coexist and if it is disconcerting, it is also the paradigm that makes her music so unique. This album coincides with the release of Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin Ichigo Ichie and a different Fujii quartet—KAZE—titled Uminari, all on the Libra label. Each is different in indescribable ways as is Fujii herself.

Track Listing: Hanabi; Run After A Shadow; Fuki; Wind Dance; Centrifugal Force; Potential Energy; Yamiyo Ni Karasu.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Todd Nicholson: bass; Takashi Itani: drums.
Record Label: Libra Records

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