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Monday, November 12, 2007

Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble - Fujin Raijin (Victo, 2007) ****

Min-Yoh is Japanese traditional folk music. The form, structure and scales are simple. That is ... until they get in the hands of Satoko Fujii. The Japanese pianist is a musical adventurer in the truest sense of the word : she explores new musical territory with each album, changing line-ups, musical vision, approaches, yet everything she does has this incredible intensity and authenticity. She really wants to hear what's behind the bend, and which new aural landscapes emerge when you push things a step further. And sometimes it's successful, and I find this to be the case mostly in her small ensemble settings, and sometimes it's not, to my taste less so in her big bands, but her music will always be a conduit of raw emotional power and expression. And that's no different on this record. As she states it in the liner notes "When I play, sing and listen to this music, it goes directly to my heart. ... There are many music styles that have used the form, scales and rhythms of Min-Yoh, but they often lose the power, which is the most important part of this music". And power you get here. The first and last tracks are traditional Japanese folk songs, the other four are Fujii compositions based on Min-Yoh heritage. She is accompanied by Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone and avant-gardist Andrea Parkins on accordion.
And these musicians go really deep into the possibilities offered by the material. At moments quiet and subdued, melodic, romantic and impressionistic, they build the simple form to paroxysms of avant-garde intensity, sometimes controlled chaos, but without leaving the core structure and melody, and in that way unleashing indeed the inherent power of the song as unexpected as it was undiscovered. "Shimanto", the longest track of the record illustrates this well, moving from introspective moments, to joyful dancing interplay, avant-garde sound exploration, to darkly brooding piano thundering, ending in unisono sad melody for the horns. The four musicians are excellent and the unconventional combination of instruments and especially their approach to music, and Min-Yoh in particular, makes this another worthwhile album in the lengthy Fujii catalogue.