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Satoko Fujii Four : When We Were There

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The stylistically peripatetic pianist Satoko Fujii addresses short-form free jazz here, with a group composed of bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Jim Black and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. All are well acquainted. This is Fujii’s eighth recording with this rhythm section. Her musical relationship with husband Tamura stretches back to 1984. The players evidence the sort of communal vision you’d expect, given their shared history. In the album notes, Fujii confesses a natural inclination toward prolixity. On this she reverses tack, paring her compositions to a minimum of elements. The result is a series of (mostly) compact statements-not terse, but focused in a way that mostly improvised music seldom is. Her sidemen excel. Dresser has the kind of refined chops that best suit Fujii’s classically tinged approach. Black is the wild card-alternately explosive and elegant, always interesting. Tamura’s tone is Miles-ian, his concept the aural equivalent of a lighted sparkler in the hands of a rambunctious child. Fujii’s playing is smart and strong, and her deceptively slight compositions are far more than grist for the mill. As much European-derived as jazz-influenced, the tunes bind the improvisation in a refreshingly uncontrived manner. Seldom has free music had form imposed upon it more gracefully.