Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura at The Lily Pad

The Lily Pad, Cambridge, MA, February 5, 2012

In a rare Boston-area visit, Satoko Fujii, pianist and composer, and Natsuki Tamura, trumpeter and composer, gave a duo performance at The Lily Pad, a well-kept storefront space dedicated to jazz.

Fujii and Tamura, who are married and live in Japan, have both worked with a number of projects and groups that create various kinds of avant-garde jazz. Fujii and Tamura have recorded extensively, and frequent tours take them to Europe, North America, and elsewhere.

Fujii opened with a piano solo. In a deliberative and spare manner, she played a quiet melody that might have been taken for a standard song. She then turned to a second, more active and percussive theme. She ended with the original melody.

For the second piece, Fujii started in a free style. Tamura entered with a series of sustained notes, favoring a tritone. He sometimes hummed along with his playing. Then they played together, apparently improvising passages that alternated and overlapped in flawless coordination, with little need for visual cues.

Tamura started the next number, softly and hoarsely sustaining tones interspersed with half-tone mordents. He outlined a diminished 7th chord, starting an octatonic turn. Fujii added quiet accompaniment and more tonalities; her left hand played minor and her right, major. As they continued, Fujii deftly altered the piano’s sound by applying sticks, paper, and other objects to its strings. She created a plunking, out-of-tune toy-piano effect, with which Tamura played finger cymbals. Fujii crescendoed and started a periodic shift of tonal centers that continued through a vigorous, pedaled solo with arpeggios in the left hand and bitonal dissonance in the right. Tension built as she modulated upward and increased the tempo. Tamura rejoined her to close.

Tamura drew chuckles with his opening trumpet sound, a long “raspberry.” Fujii then introduced a gentle tune reminiscent of a 19th-century, European folk-influenced melody, playing parallel thirds with her right hand. Tamura joined to play the melody. Fujii turned to a more intense, minor pentatonic melody, propelled by thick left-hand chords. At the end of each phrase, Tamura answered with a splat, smack, or raspberry of distaste, which countermanded the mood and cracked up the audience. Following a drawn-out caterwaul from the trumpeter, Fujii transformed the tune using a ragtime-flavored rhythm. They then played together on the second melody (without trumpet splats) and finally played the opening melody.

Fujii opened with an airy, contemplative song, using parallel fourths and fifths in her right hand. Tamura joined with a flowing, 8th-note line, and then he improvised by himself. Fujii rejoined, dissonantly, and then played more consonantly as she and Tamura played together. Fujii’s solo then took a new direction, livelier and dissonant, and she turned to a percussive sound with a Flamenco-like pulse. After a ritard and pause, she brought back the opening song, which Tamura joined to end.

Before the final number, Fujii spoke briefly to the audience, expressing her and Tamura’s pleasure at returning after a long time to play in the Boston area. She observed that she and Tamura usually put on a performance that was “more crazy” than today’s, in which they were tending toward the “romantic.”

Fujii announced the title of the final piece, “Explore.” It opened with a duet on the bright and dissonant theme. Tamura played using a mute, and then he picked up a couple of small, brightly colored toys that, when shaken, make cartoon-character noises. Fujii joined him for a brief interlude of rhythmic squawks and jabbers. Returning to the piano, she plucked and strummed its strings, and he used the mute to produce grunts. With Tamura playing open, they recapped the theme for an exhilarating end to an enjoyable performance.

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Virginia A. Schaefer