Click here to [close]

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura: Recent Albums

By Eyal Hareuveni

For years, the Free Jazz Blog has followed the sonic adventures of pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, partners in music and life, who celebrate now Fujii’s 100th album.

Satoko Fujii - Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams (Libra, 2022)  

 Hyaku (百) means 100 in Japanese and One Hundred Dreams is a suite that Fujii composed for her 100th album, and for an American, all-star ensemble - trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith (who collaborated with Fujii before on Aspiration, Libra, 2017) and Tamura, tenor sax player Ingrid Laubrock, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck (both of them recording for the first time with Fujii), electronics wizard Ikue Mori (a frequent collaborator of Fujii), bassist Brandon Lopez, and drummers Tom Rainey and Chris Corsano (the latter three are also recording for the first time with Fujii). The album was recorded at Cary Hall in New York’s DiMenna Center for Classical Music in September 2020.

Fujii, in her liner notes, tells about the long and tasking path that she has passed until she found her personal voice, always refusing to follow conventional cultural and musical dogmas. One Hundred Dreams celebrates her idiosyncratic and brilliant musical vision and her unclassifiable, multifaceted way of music-making. You will find in this five-part suite echoes of early jazz, chamber jazz and free jazz, contemporary music, sonic inventions and collective improvisation, but it clearly sounds like a composition that only Fujii can imagine and harness the best musicians to realize her vision, and she trusts all of them with generous solos.

Fujii conducts 'One Hundred Dreams' constant shifts between suggestive and colorful intimate solos and small format segments and full ensemble abstractions, and its sudden twists and turns between the introspective and lyrical and the dramatic and sublime, driving it patiently into the exciting conclusion. The suite begins with a beautiful dreamy solo piano of Fujii, soon ornamented by the mysterious electronics of Mori. Schoenbeck’s unaccompanied solo introduces a contemplative, chamber-lyrical melody, and when the drummers and Smith and Tamura join it blossoms into an intense and dramatic statement. The second part features Smith expanding the lyrical vein with subtle sonic manipulation and structural discipline, employing extended breathing techniques, later matched by Lopez and his own array of extended bowing techniques, and his solemn, dark and dramatic tone. Laubrock opens the third part with a playful and energetic free jazz dialog with Rainey and Corsono, and when Smith, Tamura, Mori, Schoenbeck and Lopez join it soars into a post-bop celebration, but the tight dynamics transform into introspective and sometimes even chaotic ones. Now the ensemble is ready to swing -literally - its imaginative and jubilant dance. But then introduces Mori otherworldly enigmatic and unsettling tones and Tamura insists on adding absurdist and comic comments. In the last part, Fujii returns to the piano and leads the ensemble with an emotional, beautiful melody that stresses her mastery of sound, silence, space and instrumental color, and slowly builds the celebratory conclusion. She promises that in 2023 she will start all over again with album no. 101.

5 Trumpets (Libra, 2022)

On 5 Trumpets, Tamura convenes some of the most creative Japanese trumpeters - Osaka-based Rabito Arimoto, who plays in Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe; a former member of the Orchestra Kobe, Nobuki Yamamoto, who plays the slide trumpet; Kobe-based Ari Morimoto, who operates a local recording studio, and the extended technique virtuoso Masafumi Ezaki, known in the quiet world of reductive improvisation. Tamura composed the 41-minute “Various” for this ensemble, focusing on the exploration of the possibilities of highly inventive extended breathing techniques. This composition combines conventional notation, instructions on the extended techniques that should be used, and distinct and highly personal solo sections that trigger the ensemble comments.

The composition shifts instantly and constantly from a whisper to a scream, and from uplifting, humorous segments to dark and abstract sonic searches, and at times sounds kaleidoscopic and surreal. Each solo section marks a different course for the ensemble. Arimoto’s solo focuses on breathy articulations, patiently swirling into a mysterious storm of sounds. Yamamoto’s solo is melodic and makes full use of the slide trumpet’s bent and squeezed notes. Ezaki focuses on subtle manipulations of sounds, disassembles the trumpet and offers a series of birdlike whistles, his own whistling, and abstract, resonating sounds. Morimoto has a warm and smoky tone and he constructs a series of lyrical phrases. Tamura's melodic solo is rooted in the jazz tradition, playing with long racing lines and melodic phrases, and concludes this wild ride with a bright and uplifting coda.

Natsuki Tamura - Iyaho (Libra, 2022)

Iyaho is the sixth solo album of Tamura but here his trumpet playing is matched by two recent interests of his - playing and banging on kitchenware - woks, pots and other cooking implements, as explored before on NABE KAMA (Libra, 2021), and singing and chanting nonsensical syllables, in an amused and even a comic imitation of a Buddhist priest or one that deciphered the language of cats. Anyone who followed the discography of Fujii and Tamura already knows about their love of cats.

The five pieces highlight Tamura’s sly musical imagination and his eccentric sense of humor. The opening piece “Sagahogenaga” features Tamura’s ceremonial chants, and sparse percussive sounds with familiar warm and lyrical trumpet playing, as if he opens this journey with an enigmatic, purifying ritual. The following “August Wok” is a dadaist, percussion piece with only kitchenware, that explores their odd sonorities. Tamura invents an ancient legend on “Mesahoji”, articulated with his trumpet and a voice of an old storyteller. “August Tp” is the only solo trumpet piece, but Tamura moans and sings through the muted trumpet, and on the last piece “Karakara” he vocalizes like a strange bird seducing cats to a twisted play.