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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo ‎– Peace (Tribute To Kelly Churko) (Libra, 2016) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Japanese pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and her partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, returned recently to Japan after spending the last few years splitting their time between Berlin and Tokyo. Fujii's fifth recording with her Orchestra Tokyo already introduces newer European aesthetics to this strong 15-musicians orchestra which hosts two of her and Tamura closest collaborators, French drummer Peter Orins and trumpeter Christian Pruvost from the Japanese-French quartet KAZE.

Peace is dedicated to the late Canadian, Tokyo-based guitarist (1977-2014) Kelly Churko, a member of Orchestra Tokyo since 2009 (he played on the Orchestra’s last album, Zakopane, Libra, 2010) and on Fujii and Tamura short-lived quartet First Meeting's only album (Cut the Rope, Libra, 2010). Fujii describes Churko as a “guy who was very peaceful and loved peace”, even though he was known as a noise musician who loved metal music.

The opening, 33-minutes “2014”, the year when Churko died of cancer, already merges the open, experimental spirit of KAZE with the Orchestra Tokyo varied dynamics. Fujii employs the orchestra as a painter who uses a large musical canvas, sketching weird and sudden sonic events, first created by Pruvost's extended breathing techniques and Orins' pulse-free drumming, slowly pushing up the energy level as more and more players join, then cutting to a funny, talkative trumpets chatter of Tamura and Toshihiro Koike before the augmented orchestra jumps to a series of wild, funky full Orchestra blasts. Fujii's second, shorter piece dedicated to the memory of Churko, “Peace”, ups the stormy, explosive interplay of the full orchestra even further, pushing the trumpets and sax section into dense and manic extremes, encapsulated in a commanding, passionate solo of baritone sax player Ryuichi Yoshida.

Tamura's “Jasper”, titled after a Bostonian cat that was his close friend, highlights the emotionally-charged soprano sax playing of Sachi Hayasaka, one of the closest musical partners of Fujii and Tamura, while the orchestra gently and patiently contrasts her lyrical playing with an intensifying yet highly disciplined energetic blows. This spectacular ride concludes with a much structured and conventional piece, Beguine Nummer Eins”. This piece reflects on the period that Fujii and Tamura time spent as residents of Berlin, uses the full orchestra in its most melodic, even swinging mode to abstract classical dance moves, enjoying a beautiful trumpet solo of Yoshihito Fukumoto.

What a beautiful, wild ride.