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Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace (Tribute to Kelly Churko) (Libra)

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Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace (Tribute to Kelly Churko)
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace (Tribute to Kelly Churko)

The fifth album by Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Tokyo is an exercise in contradictions and surprises. First, the title. Peace is anything but peaceful. But the album is dedicated to Kelly Churko, a guitarist and composer who had been part of Orchestra Tokyo; he died in 2014, at the age of 36. Then there’s the fact that Fujii, a powerhouse of a pianist, does not touch an instrument on Peace. Instead she composed three of the four pieces and conducts the now-16-piece band, which includes three members of her quartet Kaze.

The opening number, “2014,” traverses wide terrain over 33 minutes. It begins with trumpeter Christian Pruvost blowing air through his horn for three minutes. For the next half hour, the music shifts—sometimes seamlessly, sometimes abruptly—through what feel like movements of a suite. Some of it is melodic, some funky, some noisy and tempestuous, and some bizarre—such as the segment in which musicians growl and mutter into their horns. “2014” is captivating.

The second tune is, in fact, peaceful—at first. “Jasper,” composed by Fujii’s husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, and named for a cat, opens with soprano saxophonist Sachi Hayasaka playing mournfully over Toshiki Nagata’s droning bass. The piece intensifies as others join in, horns blown in unison on the ones, and builds its crescendo to an anguished peak. The 10-minute “Peace,” on the other hand, is bombastic and chaotic, all thrashing drums and gruff horns, with a furious solo in the middle section by baritone saxophonist Ryuichi Yoshida and a wild battle between drummers Akira Horikoshi and Peter Orins. It’s a clear homage to Churko, who loved heavy metal and noise music but was said to be a peaceful person. The disc closes with a pretty melody and a danceable rhythm in “Beguine Nummer Eins”—another contradiction, another surprise. What’s not surprising is that Satoko Fujii, who has recorded dozens of albums over the past 20 years, has given us another great one.

Originally Published