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Satoko Fujii: April Shower

Playing “outside” jazz clearly involves a commitment on the part of the performer, and asks a similar commitment of the listener. The performer must run to expressing the moment, even when the moment runs counter to style and technique. Such openness makes it easier for the listener to integrate the musical experience; it also grants license to a broader range of experiment.

Such range is evident in pianist Satoko Fujii’s multifaceted spate of releases. One hears in her playing the influence of Paul Bley, with whom she has studied and recorded, but animated to a much higher degree, with ferocity that arcs toward Cecil Taylor. What is impressive in these performances is the degree to which Fujii accommodates her collaborators, in terms of composition and approach. The contemplative nature of her work with violinist Mark Feldman, on April Shower, is characteristic: composition and improvisation merge seamlessly, leaving the impression of works as studied and scrupulous as those of, say, Berg, but with the lightness and freedom of freshly minted inspiration. This is the placid pool among these sessions.

Junction, the fourth outing for Fujii with bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Jim Black, finds the waters stirred, flecked with whitecaps and fascination. Black and Dresser are players of great range-well suited to Fujii, in other words. The session finds all of them at times playing “outside the box”: inside the piano, below the bass bridge and all over the drum kit. The title track is notable for Black’s aggressive attack, cued by Fujii and setting the tone for the piece: postmodern funk, chasing an elusive one. The natural sound of the recording is a plus, giving the three players common space in which to interact.

Vulcan finds Fujii in a different mode, setting out from a more rock-oriented locus. Her colleagues here include trumpeter husband Natsuki Tamura, Takeharu Hayakawa on electric upright and Tatsuya Yoshida on drums. The sensibility here is aggressive to the point of primitive, with a raw, larger-than-life recorded presence for the drums and bass. The otherworldly vocal wailing that introduces “The sun in a moonlight night” is both a warning and an invitation to the intriguing asymmetrical structures and virtuoso playing on this set.

Originally Published