Can we declare a moratorium on comparisons to Cecil Taylor when discussing the music of pianist Satoko Fujii? Both can play at breakneck speed, and both revel in the place where the avant-garde meets free-jazz, but there is so much more to Fujii’s work, as she demonstrates with two new releases that could not be less alike.
Bacchus, by her Japanese quartet, might be called improvised avant-fusion. Fujii’s compositions and love of melody underpin the tunes, but that is not what surfaces on first listen; freedom and sheer power do. “Sunset in Savannah,” which opens the set, is an epic rock-jazz amalgam made up of movements and interludes. A vaguely Latin 6/8 rhythm gives way to a Fujii solo of low rumblings and high splashes, which in turn gives way to a funky exchange between bassist Takeharu Hayakawa and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida straight out of a Parliament/Funkadelic jam. “In the Town Called Empty” showcases the work of trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (Fujii’s husband), which puts Spanish tinges on Eastern European melodics. There’s comedy here too, particularly with the playful prog-rock/free-jazz blend of “Natsu Mae,” which features a flatulent trumpet and a barrage of exclamation points from the rhythm section, and again with “Waltz for Godzilla,” which is certainly monstrous and imposing but definitely not a waltz.
Minamo, an album of duets with violinist Carla Kihlstedt, is a beast of a different color. Drawn from two concerts in 2002 and 2005, the music is purely and entirely improvised, nothing more (and nothing less) than two players responding to each other, feeling their way along. Kihlstedt is better known for her more structured work in the Tin Hat Trio, so this is a nice alternative offering from her. The tones and textures vary widely from one minute to the next. The plunking, plucking, ripping, sawing, wailing and thudding conjure all sorts of mental images: two people dancing, circling each other, debating, squaring off and racing. One passage in “Remembering Backwards” sounds exactly like a person being chased, ducking behind notes and bars to escape capture.
Satoko Fujii is wild enough and original enough in her own right. There’s no need to drag Cecil Taylor into this.