Releases from the prodigious Satoko Fujii keep pouring in, but the high bar she’s set for quality control never dips. This is now the 13th album by the pianist/composer I’ve reviewed since November 2012, and there have been others.
In addition to her solo work, duo dates, small ensembles and many ad hoc collaborations, Fujii now runs six Orchestras, of which the oldest, the Orchestra New York, she founded in 1996 with Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby, Herb Roberton and Steven Bernstein among its members.
Orchestra Tokyo was founded a year later. Then came Orchestra Nagoya and Orchestra Kobe in 2004⏤all four extant Orchestras made new recordings in 2006⏤and Orchestras Chicago and Berlin in 2013/14. All of which testifies to Fujii’s fecundity, and to the ever-burgeoning respect she commands in the international jazz community.
The consistency over time of these orchestras’ lineups are testament to a two-way dedication. Fujii’s writing inspires performances charged with the electrifying vivacity of real-time improvisation, foregrounding the specificity of individual voices: she’s been dubbed without hyperbole “the Ellington of free jazz”.
On Peace (Libra Records), Orchestra Tokyo is bolstered by the personnel of Kaze, Fujii and husband/trumpet player Natsuki Tamura’s collaborative quartet with French musicians Christian Pruvost (trumpet) and Peter Orins (drums).
“2014” is long at 32:45, but effectively has two movements. The first half begins with solo trumpet, then develops as a blowsy, slowly intensifying rumination. An irruption of solo kit percussion then signals a change of tack, introducing riffing horns that channel a disputatious face-off between the two drummers. But that gives to another interlude of solo trumpet, welcoming a convocation of horns, bridging to a riffing, roiling passage á la Mingus. Here it’s Toshiki Nagata who steps up as contrabass kingpin, and he claims a lovely solo and central role in a vigorous accompanied coda as his reward.
Natsuki Tamura’s “Jasper” (8:52) – the one piece here not composed by Fujii – is beautifully focused in slow march time, with lyrical lead saxophone. It builds evenly through a series of horn riffs that frame a central orchestral drone, to a slow diminuendo where Fujii’s delicate piano glistens. Finally Sachi Hayasaka plays a gorgeously tender soprano sax soliloquy with only bowed bass for accompaniment.
“Peace” (10:02) is in tribute to the Canadian guitarist Kelly Churko, a long-term resident of Japan who died, only in his 30s, in 2014. It begins with a surge of volume and intensity – anguished saxophones wailing over a barrage of frenetic percussion and serried brass riffage – giving onto a changeable flux of woozy bass pulse, low register reed blasts, volatile percussion breaks, throttled solo sax, and all-in rumpus. It’s evidently structured – the ending channels gutteral saxphony within melodic orchestral riffs – but electrifyingly unpredictable, and anything but pacific. As an underground noise afficianado, Churko would’ve approved.
Balm comes with the smooth, sensuous sway of “Beguine Nummer Eins” (06:08), which reconnects to tradition with hints of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and superb, forthright trumpet. But even here Fujii is inimitably creative, subtly distorting her orchestration with impressionistic, quasi turntablist twists of pattern and coloration ahead of an unexpected acoustic fade.
Fujii’s talent is profuse but there’s no surfeit. As progressive as it is epic, Peace is as vital as anything she’s done before, if not more so.
Natsuki Tamura, Yoshihito Fukumoto, Takao Watanabe and Yusaku Shirotani – trumpets; Haguregumo Nagamatsu, Yasuyuki Takahashi and Toshihiro Koike trombones; Sachi Hayasaka soprano and alto saxophones; Kunihiro Izumi alto saxophone; Kenichi Matsumoto and Masaya Kimura tenor saxophones; Ryuichi Yoshida baritone saxophone; Toshiki Nagata bass; Akira Horikoshi drums + Christian Pruvost trumpet; Peter Orins drums.
Satoko Fujii Tobira + Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin – Yamiyo Ni Karasu / Ichigo Ichie.
Gato Libre + Kaze + Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York – DuDu / Tornado / Shiki.
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York + Kaze – ETO / Rafale.
Buy Peace direct from Libra Records.