Satoko Fujii ma-do – Time Stands Still (2013)

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Yesterday was about Satoko Fujii looking forward with her next small combo project, today is about one last glance back on her previous one.

Time Stands Still is the third and final release for Fujii’s ma-do quartet, a very special foursome that combines virtuosity and pure feel into a single, potent package. Fujii, husband Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Norikatsu Koreyasu (acoustic bass) and Akira Horikoshi (drums) convened after a summer tour in 2011 for one more round of performing new Fujii originals and charts. Only, they didn’t know at the time this would be the last go around for them; just three months later, Koreyasu died from a heart attack at age fifty-six.

A band so driven by its collection of unique spirits as it is shaped by Fujii’s penned works, continuing on with another bassist under the ma-do moniker just wouldn’t have been facing up to reality. So, Fujii immediately disbanded the group.

Time Stands Still is, therefore, the band’s swan song, and a testament of why the band couldn’t continue on without him. These seven songs are typical ma-do, negotiating across moods fraught with unexpected left-turns but always reaching its intended destinations. “Fortitude” begins, appropriately enough, with Koreyasu’s creaky arco, which provides the foundation to Fujii’s tentatively marching tempo. When he puts the bow away, Koreyasu remains as active and vital to the song as Fujii powers through with sweeping chords.

“North Wind and the Sun” begins dramatically, quickly slipping into an uneasy but gentle mood, but soon the beautiful tone from Tamura trumpet gives assurance. He leads the group through the ever-changing shape of the song, but Fujii left markers that keeps the players going down a set path, via a very wide road. Fujii leads a climax toward the end, taming the thunderous storm she created. Following some strained articulations by Tamura, the band finds a groove from an unusual time signature within “Time Flies,” and Fujii can be heard reaching into her piano and extracting odd sounds from the strings of the instrument. The groove eventually serves as the launching point for Horikoshi’s violent drum solo.

“Set The Clock Back” is a departure from the rest of the fare in that the chart called for the band to engage in four-part unison over serpentine lines. “Broken Time” features Namura engaging in a poignant exchange with Koreyasu bowed bass, a bittersweet moment in the album. Koreyasu is able to mimic a trumpet so convincingly that at one point I thought Namura had overdubbed himself. When the ensemble kicks it into high gear, there’s Koreyasu in full command of his projecting pulse. “Time Stands Still” ends it all on a somber temperament all the way through, with the late bassist turning in fetching intonations one last time with his bow.

Satoko Fujii can look back to these four years in which the group was together and have no regrets, except perhaps that as good of a run they had, there was a sense that their best days were still ahead of them. As fate would have it, ma-do called it a day at the highest point of their artistic achievement.

Time Stands Still goes on sale May 28, on Nottwo Records.

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