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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Kira Kira - Bright Force (Libra Records, 2018) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Japanese verb Kira Kira (ぎらぎら) means to sparkle or twinkle, but is also used in relation to trendy baby names, as kira kira/shiny names. Kira Kira, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii’s new quartet, has a different concept of what might be trendy or a bright glittering. Something with the charm and brute force of an immense killer whale, moving towards you with full power, threatening to consume all on its way, but with bright, wicked smile. 

This collaborative quartet features Fujii’s partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, long-time associate, Australian Alister Spence on the Fender Rhodes plus pedal effects and treatments, and young Japanese drummer Ittetsu Takemura, known from the bands of Japanese pianist Fumio Itabashi and saxophonist Sadao Watanabe. Kira Kira recorded live at Knuttel House, Tokyo, on September 2017. The original version of this quartet featured The Necks’ drummer, Tony Buck, who could not attend the quartet performances in Japan.

Bright Force - the fourth release of Fujii’s Kanrkei - 60th birthday project - and the debut of Kira Kira begins with Spence’s “Because of the Sun”. Spence knows well Fujii and Tamura. He has worked with both of them in Scottish Scottish sax player Raymond MacDonald's International Big Band, later performed with Fujii as a duo and played with her orchestras in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kobe. On his piece, the four musicians coordinate their manic attacks like a group of hungry killer whales closing on its desperate prey. Fujii dense and urgent piano solo set the course for Tamura wild pyrotechnics and the towards cathartic climax. Tamura’s “Nat 4” maintains this reckless, explosive spirit, but spicing it with sudden, episodic blasts of eccentric-melodic motifs, as some kind of sinister maneuvers that may deceive the prey. Takemura plays the drums like he is possessed by a primal force, setting a rapid, uncompromising pulse, while the electric keyboards of Spence keep spiraling and clashing with Fujii’s piano. 

Fujii’s three-part suite “Luna Lionfish” (which opened this performance) has many characteristics of Fujii's epic compositions, including the blizzard of surreal juxtapositions, sharp contrasts and irregular meters; the organic, collective slow-burning kind of interplay that is often interrupted by powerful, individual solos; and a dramatic narrative that weaves the weird, shiny colors, nuanced textures and surprising, outrageous ideas in a manner only she can make sense of all of it. Her solo that connects the second and third part of the suite and Takemura ecstatic solo on the third part embody beautifully these qualities. This time Fujii leads her pack of killer whale with a more adventurous and playful strategy yet a patient and subtle one, needed to capture the  venomous, highly dangerous luna lionfish.


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