Satoko Fujii New Trio – Spring Storm (2013)

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It’s often said, when one door is closed, another one is opened. That’s how Satoko Fujii viewed the end of her ma-do quartet brought on by the sudden death of the bassist, Norikatsu Koreyasu. The composer, pianist and bandleader soon went about the task of assembling a new combo that was right for rendering her compositions in a small group setting. Ultimately, she settled on not a quartet as before, but an even leaner piano/bass/drums trio. It’s certainly not a setting this restless, out-of-the-box artist is averse to; she thrived in it with Jim Black and Mark Dresser for a number of years. But Fujii cares less about formal band constructions than she does the musical personalities of the band members themselves. That’s what makes her New Trio truly “new.”

Todd Nicholson at bass and Takashi Itani behind the drums didn’t have the burden of replacing Koreyasu and Akira Horikoshi, respectively, but they do have the task of establishing a new identity with Fujii, and help her implement this fresh start. Fujii herself made that task easier by allowing them to be themselves and play without restrictions. For a couple of guys who come from the school of “learn everything you can about tradition, and then forget it,” that must have made this a fun gig for them.

Coming on the same day of release next week as final work by ma-do, the simultaneous release of Spring Storm is Fujii turning the page. Spring Storm is where the New Trio bows on record, and through these five Fujii originals of varying lengths, it has all the appearances of a fully flowered band that already knows its character, not of one trying to find its way. I credit Fujii’s abilities as a bandleader, who can work with ensembles ranging from duos to full big band orchestras and get them to fulfill her conceptions but in a way that encourages individual expression.

It’s interesting that the first track “Convection” begins with Nicholson’s bass shapes, since it was the passing of a bassist that gave rise to this band. Fujii performs a little figure around it and then the rhythm section retreats as she contemplates her next move. Already we’re witnessing a terrific rapport between Fujii and Nicholson, as the latter is all but finishing the sentences of the former. Itani’s exotic percussion underscores the group’s announcement that this isn’t your father’s swinging jazz trio.

On “Fuki,” Fujii dives headfirst into Cecil Taylorisms, while Nicholson swings like the dickens. His spiderlike pulses while the other two take breathers maintains the energy all on its own. Nicholson later switches roles with Fujii, and Fujii continues playing while the other two come in and out. Finally, Itani takes the lead with detonative bashing.

“Whirlwind” is not as violent as the title sounds, although Fujii’s delicate piano is constantly rubbing up against the near-rock rhythm section. Nicholson’s arco bass along with Itani’s sprinkled percussion during the intro of “Maebure” gives Fujii parameters to improvise around but when Nicholson puts down the bow and Itani picks up the sticks halfway through the fourteen minute performance, the whole character changes into an aggressive one. Itani goes off near the end with dense explosions, sounding as if he has an extra limb. And finally, “Tremble” is gently constructed around simple, sparse figures on piano, a “ballad” only in the sense that it’s hushed, but too exploratory to be considered one in the traditional sense.

“Traditional” was never Satoko Fujii’s style to begin with. Using a rather orthodox setup ideally suited for mainstream acoustic jazz, Fujii and her two new cohorts ignore artificial boundaries put in place around the piano, bass and drums and come up with something radically different from what one might expect if they just read the credits for what instruments were played. To Fujii Satoko, it’s not unorthodox at all; it’s who she is, and through the individuality she encouraged from her band mates, she built a stronger union. Long live the Satoko Fujii New Trio.

Spring Storm goes on sale May 28, by Libra Records. Purchase Spring Storm here.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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