Satoko Fujii creates quickly and perpetually. The 62-year-old pianist has released dozens of albums—in the 21st century alone—under her own name and as part of various ensembles she leads or co-leads, ranging from duets to full orchestras. She typically eschews vacations and spends three-quarters of every year on the road touring.
Then the pandemic hit, and Fujii essentially was confined to the apartment she shares with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, in Kobe, Japan. She pickled vegetables, grew flowers, learned German, shared music files with various collaborators, and began transforming her tiny, soundproof practice room into a recording studio. Hazuki, her fourth solo piano record, became a relatively painstaking creative response to this turn of events.
A fearsome noisemaker on a decent chunk of her voluminous catalog, Fujii is notably more measured on Hazuki. Even when she goes inside her instrument on two of the eight songs, the distinctive sounds help unpack rather than disrupt the narrative. They contribute to the ominous aura of stealthy invasion that frames the opener, “Invisible,” and cobweb-delicate textures in the suite-like movements of “Hoffen” (German for “Hope”), at nine minutes the album’s longest composition. When Fujii does rumble and churn out chords, as on “Quarantine,” it can be heard to stand for the exasperated monotony of pandemic-imposed “new normal” routines.
Fujii is always “on the go.” Hazuki is what happened when she had to stay, composing and revising on her practice instrument of 45 years. When she sat down to record in August, the airtight room (so as not to disturb the neighbors) with no air conditioning (so as not to create background noise) reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit; she played with a cold compress on her neck. Hazuki is an old Japanese word for August. Under the circumstances, it seems appropriate to note that “august” is an English word meaning “marked by majestic dignity or grandeur.”