Satoko Fujii
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Satoko Fujii ma-do

Akira Horikoshi (drums), Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Satoko Fujii (piano), Norikatsu Koreyasu (double bass)

Review: - 87k

Pianist Satoko Fujii's ma-do Quartet Provides a New Window on her Music focusing on compositions, use of space, subtle sounds
and textures *

Whenever pianist-composer Satoko Fujii assembles a new band, it's a sign that she's taking off in a new direction. Her new Japanese quartet, Satoko Fujii ma-do, featuring trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and drummer Akira Horikoshi, is no exception. Their debut recording, Heat Wave (August 26, NotTwo) is a stunning display of group sensitivity to tone color, silence, and interaction, as well as finely balanced and nuanced
interpretation of composition.

"I really wanted to put together a band to play my original music with a very sensitive approach," Fujii explains. "My other Japanese quartet is rock band that has strong power, but it is sometimes not easy for me to play quietly. The project I have with Dresser and Black has a lot of improvisation parts that I really like, but these days I'm writing more and more, so I wanted to have a project that can work more from written parts."

"'Ma-do' means 'window' in Japanese," she continues. "Also, 'ma' means 'the silence between notes. I wanted the name of the band to show how the music opens to the outside (just like window) and that silence has probably more meaning than notes."

The compositions that Fujii has written for ma-do do open up a world of new sonic possibilities. Pieces such as "Beyond the Horizon," "Mosaic," and "Heat Wave" encompass a wide range of moods and tempos. The quartet executes difficult unison lines, abrupt changes in direction, and the blending of composition and improvisation with elegant precision. Fujii's arrangements explore different combinations of instruments to create textural and timbral variety, changing the density of the music to accommodate more space and openness as well as a fuller ensemble sound. "Beyond the Horizon," for instance, includes unaccompanied solos for piano, bass, and drums, as well as spacious textural quartet improvisations, a vamping funk passage, and a trio section for trumpet, bass, and drums.

In this acoustic setting, the group explores subtle textures and tone colors, using silence and group interaction to build brilliant collages of
sound, melody, and rhythm. Fujii broadens her sonic pallet, using the inside of the piano and prepared piano to stunning effect throughout the album. On "Ring the Bell," the piano strings sound like an oud during a section with a Middle Eastern flavor. On "Mosaic," she elicits from the inside of the instrument some of the most colorful sounds she's ever recorded. Tamura blends pure sound and introspective lyricism on " Tornado," and "Mosaic," further developing the band's emphasis on sound, melody, and use of space. Koreyasu's versatility and astute musical judgment are important assets to the group. His achingly beautiful arco work on "To the Skies" helps sustain the valedictory atmosphere of the piece, while he digs into the groove passionately on "The Squall in the Sahara." Horikoshi orchestrates his kit to great effect during his solo on "Beyond the Horizon," deploying a wide spectrum of cymbal sounds, and quirky spacing of snare and tom accents for one of the album's highlights.

Fujii, who celebrates her 50th birthday in October 2008, has been one of the most original voices in jazz for more than a decade. She is "a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a band-leader who gets the best collaborators to deliver," says John Fordham in The Guardian (UK). Her innovative synthesis of jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock and folk music is featured on more than 50 albums as a leader or co-leader. She has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including her trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, and an avant-rock quartet featuring Takeharu Hayakawa, Tatsuya Yoshida, and Natsuki Tamura. Fujii has also established herself as one of the world's leading composers for large jazz ensembles. In 2006 she simultaneously released four big band albums: one from her New York ensemble, and one each by three different Japanese bands. In addition to playing accordion in her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's Gato Libre quartet, she also performs in a duo with Tamura, as an unaccompanied soloist, and in ad hoc groupings with musicians working in different genres. Recent collaborators include ROVA saxophone quartet, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, and Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg. "Whether performing with her orchestra, combo, or playing solo piano, Satoko Fujii points the listener towards the future of music itself rather than simply providing entertainment," writes Junichi Konuma in Asahi

Tamura has also released thirteen albums under his own name ranging from unaccompanied solo to an avant-rock quartet, as well as three duo CDs with Fujii. He is also a veteran of Fujii's quartets and big bands. His most recent project is Gato Libre, a quartet exploring improvisation and folk music traditions.

Bassist Koreyasu and drummer Horikoshi each have longstanding relationships with Fujii and Tamura. Koreyasu is a member of Gato Libre and is active in avant garde jazz circles in Japan. Horikoshi is the drummer for Fujii's Tokyo big band. His first love is rock, but he is also an accomplished jazz and world music percussionist.

On Heat Wave, Fujii and ma-do have looked out through the window of her new music and discovered a new world to explore.

Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura [more info]
Satoko Fujii
piano Natsuki Tamura trumpet

Fujii is above all a lyrical player, concerned not so much with momentum but with color, texture, and melody. Her playing exudes vulnerability and spontaneity, even as it possesses a great vitality. Tamura's is a similar sensibility. Though his playing is clearly and primarily jazz-based, he draws upon a variety of sources; his style evinces a certain familiarity with contemporary classical techniques… Together Tamura and Fujii construct perfect little structures; their collaboration is balanced, astute, and very musical. A lovely album—Chris Kelsey, Cadence

Anyone complaining about the lack of 'something different' hasn't heard the music of Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and her husband Natsuki Tamura. Their sounds are a potent mix of passion and calculated madness… Satoko… plays a percussive piano that first brings to mind Paul Bley (with whom she's recorded extensively, including the 1996 session
Something About Water)—Rick Marx, Jazz Central Station

Satoko Fujii Quartet
[more info]
Satoko Fujii piano Natsuki Tamura trumpet Takeharu Hayakawa bass Tatsuya Yoshida drums/voice

… Four forward-looking artists combine their experience and creative passion for one smokin' session … Satoko Fujii continues to be one of the most creative voices in contemporary jazz—Jim Sanatella, All About Jazz

Vulcan is a choice work, a great work for the genius of jazz pianist Satoko Fujii … What makes Satoko Fujii one of the most unusual, creative pianists today, is that she is both imaginative and surrealistic, and her talent is a great one. Vulcan is a masterpiece of jazz expression … ***** — Jazz Review

Satoko Fujii Trio

Satoko Fujii
piano Mark Dresser double bass Jim Black drums

Even when pursuing the most avant of free-jazz themes, Fujii's trio is a tight and cohesive unit… the musicians continue to successfully push the boundaries of the trio format—Yoshiyuki Kitazato, Jazz Critique

The wildness and energy of Fujii's trio made for an awesome listening experience—Hiroki Sugita, Swing Journal

Their music captures the exuberance and freshness of first-time experiences—Satoshi Kojima, Strange Days

Her most integrated effort so far. Fine backing from bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black gives Fujii a decided boost into the first rank of new creative pianists. Move over Brad Mehldau!—S.D. Feeney, Face

Satoko Fujii Solo
Satoko Fujii

Most vivid is the totality of her musicianship; Fujii utilizes the whole of the means at her disposal… Her tempos ebb and flow as naturally as drawing a breath… It's particularly encouraging to hear a pianist of her generation who is possessed of such a mature concept of space. Fujii is already an excellent player. This is a most artfully done endeavor—Chris Kelsey, Cadence

Satoko Fujii is one of the more arresting new voices in jazz, an intriguing pianist and composer who in the few brief years of her career has been creating personal intersections between the music of her native Japan and the traditions of free jazz. In the process, she's developing genuinely exciting and original music—Stuart Broomer, Coda

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