Satoko Fujii w/ Wadada Leo Smith, Natsuki Tamura, Ikue Mori – Aspiration (2017)

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With a grouping of some of music’s foremost masters of intuition, Satoko Fujii assembles a quartet that brings together the two most boundless trumpet-playing minds living today. Composer, pianist and bandleader Satoko Fujii has joined forces with her husband and trumpeter Natsuki on a profusion of originative projects — many that have been examined in this space. Now they have joined forces with celebrated avant trumpet maestro Wadada Leo Smith and electronic noisemaking specialist Ikue Mori for an adventure of deeply explorative jazz where they delight in the discovery that comes from the back-and-forth exchanges of new partners. Aspiration (September 8 2017, Libra Records) finally unites Fujii/Tamura with the like-minded Smith, previously connected by Mori who had already worked with both camps.

Fujii is known for her breathlessly elaborate works in a big band setting, setting a complete aural scenery for each turn within a single composition and knowing how to get the most out of each participant. She applies that kind of uncommon acumen for the four pieces that she alone composed for this occasion. “Intent” fully explores the strong musical personalities and every timbre at her disposal: beginning with Smith’s half-muted, half open trumpet tones that kick off the song. Tamura later melds with him and finally, Fujii enters to make explicit what the brass had implied. Mori’s whizzes and blips serve up wild contrasts with the acoustics of the other three but dovetail with them in terms of their intent.

Mori formulates blissfully ambient electro ramblings in launching “Floating,” carefully framed along the margins by Fujii’s restrained piano, waiting until Tamura and Smith’s entry to transfigure into density and agitation, landing on a soft resting spot to bring the sentiment full circle. On “Aspiration” it’s the composer’s turn to make the opening statements, a graceful, wistful development made more intriguing by Mori’s circuited adornments. Later, Smith’s pure, piercing trumpet slices through all that like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Tamura adds his own diction in his distinctively expressive monologue at the beginning of “Evolution,” followed by a formal statement from him, Smith and Fujii and an avant-noise-meets-Star Wars montage of trippy sounds from the laptop of Mori. Fujii pulls the song earthbound again by delivering a note-perfect solo performance that progresses like a journey through complicated emotions. The extended intervals of Smith’s muted horn operate of one mind with Fujii, starkly stylized and wrought of human tenderness.

The Fujii-penned scores, therefore, are much like preconceived group improvs; “Liberation” however is an actual group improv. Though most of this six minute romp there’s terrific interplay among the four, culminating with Fujii’s rolling, two-fisted thunder. Tamura’s “Stillness” pits a simple progression of notes uttered by a trumpet against Mori’s computer-generated dissonance. Instead of choosing sides, Fujii embarks on her own journey and over time these three threads come together in dramatic fashion before the song is over.

Under Satoko Fujii’s leadership, every member of an ensemble is empowered to thrive and when musicians of this caliber thrive, otherworldly improvised music results. Four musicians who regularly aspire for greater heights with each venture reach the summit together on Aspiration.


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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