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April 2001

Satoko Fujii
Toward, "To West"

Toward, to West is the third trio album Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii has made with bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Jim Black, and the rare sense of intuition they've developed together over the last few years is one of the most crucial ingredients of the group's success. This new collection's center is the 32-minute title track, a breath-taking array of variations on some very minimal motivic material.

Anchored by Dresser's deep woody tone, Fujii and Black seem to hover around a few simple riffs, playing against time and perpetually exchanging little jabs. It's here that Fujii-a classically trained player who discovered jazz her 20s-most obviously reveals the influence of Paul Bley, her one-time teacher: the dark harmonies, the elegant restraint and the stately melodies. Here and elsewhere the trio is in constant motion, nonchalantly dissolving notions of foreground and background.

The trio also plays without a net on the aptly titled "Shake Up and Down," a frenetic give-and-take session. Black uses his kit as a demolition device as Fujii unleashes complementary cluster-blasts and nightmarish runs of dissonance. It's contrasted nicely by the somber ballad "Then I Met You," the bulk of which finds Dresser delivering haunting arco lines and Black meticulously bowing his cymbals while Fujii traces hazy, melancholic melodic contours. Fujii's compositions don't seem to offer much on their own, but in the able hands of her trio they take on exciting new complexions.

Originally published in April 2001
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