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SATOKO FUJII

SATOKO FUJII

SATOKO FUJII AT 100 (Plus)

Hiyaku, One Hundred Dreams / Perpetual Motion / Torrent

I have a problem with Satoko Fujii. It’s not a bad problem, really. Satoko Fujii just has an insatiable need to create. She began 2023 with the release of her 100th album, Hiyaku, One Hundred Dreams. Fujii’s first album as a leader or co-leader was a record with Paul Bley and came out in 1996. That’s 99 albums in 26 years. That’s a remarkable output by any standard.

Before I had a chance to write something about this milestone release, Fujii released a collaboration with Japanese guitar improviser Otomo Yoshihide. Then, before I could get my mind around either of those records, she put out a solo piano album. It’s more creativity than I can keep up with! Still, its kind of fun to try.

• •

Hiyaku, One Hundred Dreams, Libra Records
Hiyaku, One Hundred Dreams, Libra Records

Hiyaku, One Hundred Dreams, Libra Records

For her 100th album as a leader, Satoko Fujii assembled an all-star cast featuring some stellar collaborators. In addition to her long time collaborator and husband Natsuki Tamura, she is joined by Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Ikue Mori on electronics, Brandon Lopez on bass, and the drummers Tom Rainey and Chris Corsano.

The large ensemble gives Fujii a wide palate of colors and textures to work with. Fujii has always been an explorer rather than just a jazz pianist. The compositions on Hiyaku are mostly quiet, abstract soundscapes, owing as much to composers like Ligeti as anyone in the jazz world.

Perpetual Motion, Ayler Records
Perpetual Motion, Ayler Records

Perpetual Motion, Ayler Records

It’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Satoko Fujii and Otomo Yoshihide to record together. They are two of the most influential players on the new music scene in Japan, and they both broke out way back in the 1990s. Otomo first gained attention as part of the Hong Kong-based rock group Ground Zero before getting involved with improvised music. Otomo produces music for film and television as well.

Perpetual Motion was recorded as one long improvisation. The titles to segments were added later. The piece has an organic ebb and flow that starts with a quiet meditation, which slowly builds. The music has several peaks and valleys along the way. During “Perpetual Motion II,” Otomo does some almost-metal shredding that howls and screams. For almost 47 minutes, the duo follow each other through an array of textures, tempos, and emotions. Fujii matches the feedback and distortion arrayed by Otomo by reaching inside her piano and using all manner of things on the strings to create equally manic sounds.

Torrent, Libra Records
Torrent, Libra Records

Torrent, Libra Records

Torrent is Satoko Fujii’s first all-improvised solo concert. After years of being cooped up during the plague years, Satoko is ready to explode with pent-up creativity. For this performance, Fujii walked on stage with no set list, no compositions ready to go. She just sat down at the piano and let the sounds spill out.

The opening piece, “Torrent,” is full of dense passages and dissonance. She deploys cluster bombs of notes in full Cecil Taylor mode. “Voyage” displays the composer’s instinct for building on small phrases to reach an ultimate destination. The improvisations on this record reflect the full range of Satoko’s talent on the keyboard and her seemingly limitless imagination.

• •

By the time I get this roundup together, I won’t be surprised if Satoko Fujii has something else ready for release. It’s almost impossible to keep up with such a prolific musician. Catch what you can or what sounds interesting to you, because it’s all good stuff.

Satoko Fujii

Featured photo satokofujii.com.


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