Satoko Fujii’s writing for her Orchestra New York frequently feels like the work of Carl Stalling, who directed the music of Warner Brothers cartoons during its golden age. Much like the Looney Tunes maestro, the pianist peppers Eto’s “The North Wind and the Sun” with a rapid five-note motif that the 15-piece ensemble blasts in fits and starts with plenty of dynamic shifts. Things stop as quickly as they start, often giving way to wild solos.
This approach continues in “Eto Suite,” a 14-part composition devoted to the dozen animals that make up the Chinese zodiac. (Fujii is Japanese, but the piece was motivated by husband/trumpeter Natsuki Tamura’s 60th birthday, a significant year in the Zodiac.) Half of the tracks last less than two minutes, and many feature top-notch players like Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone) or Curtis Hasselbring (trombone) shrieking or growling over a torrent of free sound. Others sound more written-out, with room for Ellery Eskelin (tenor) and Dave Ballou (trumpet) to add finishing touches.
The brevity of the pieces sometimes gets frustrating, like there isn’t enough time for an idea to come to fruition. But the two longer pieces that conclude the disc make up for this, realizing the band’s full potential. In addition to the contributions of the soloists, bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi adds a unique sonic texture throughout Eto, propelling the compositions along with his double stops.