Kira Kira [Satoko Fujii] – Bright Force (2018)

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To celebrate the year of Satoko Fujii’s sixtieth birthday, Tokyo’s brilliant composer and pianist is issuing an album in every month of 2018. And if there’s one musician with enough ensembles, projects and ideas to pull it off, it’s her. This fourth episode introduces the Kira Kira quartet, one where Fujii’s piano and husband Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet are joined by the young rising star drummer Ittetsu Takemura and Australian keyboardist Alister Spence.

Like most of Satoko Fujii’s small ensembles, Kira Kira came about when she started jamming with an acquaintance and found a symmetry that everyone felt needed to be further exploited. About a decade ago, Spence’s trio had shared a bill with Fujii’s ma-do quartet for a concert performed in Spence’s home country of Australia. From there, the Fujii and Spence toured as a duo and eventually, the relationship blossomed into a half Japanese, half Australian quartet with The Necks’ Tony Buck on drums. But the chemistry got even better when a scheduling conflict forced Buck’s exit last year and Takemura stepped in to replace him.

The trademarks of a Satoko Fujii-led ensemble are apparent everywhere: songs that flow on a natural course through rough terrain and moments of peaceful beauty, set within a true democracy where everyone gets to add their own flair to a composition, with composing chores also shared. Adding Spence and his wired instruments and various other electronic noisemakers doesn’t alter this approach but it does affect the texture.

The first performance come from his pen: “Because of the Sun” blasts from a circular pattern on the Rhodes, and Takemura is undertaking a commanding role, guiding the band through the performance’s multiple wind ups and releases. He tracks Fujii’s staggered path on her piano solo with astonishing accuracy. Tamura’s “Nat 4” is full of the kind of episodic bombast normally reserved for Fujii’s orchestras, this time highlighted by Tamura/Takemura explosions and some of the most brutish piano ever to come from Fujii’s hands. Spence’s electric piano is rougher than sandpaper but this electronic intruder sounds right at home with this commotion.

The first section of Satoko Fujii’s three-part “Luna Lionfish” suite couldn’t be any more different than the reckless abandon of the prior two tracks. The footprints left behind are barely audible and Spence’s creepy effects pedals lend to the uneasy stillness as well as Tamura’s strained puffs at the horn. Never content to stay in place, the band ramps up the intensity on part two, when a change in the root key of the song and Tamura’s mute signals an about-face in direction. Fujii and Spence both run up and down their respective keyboards and Takemura goes with the flow, plunging the proceedings into a semi-chaotic state. Further in the evolution, it’s reduced to some lively jousting between the elusive Spence and the puckish Fujii. The final segment begins with Fujii alone in a dazzling solo piano exploit, a hint of what she achieved on her piano-only release from January, Satoko Fujii Solo. But Takemura’s own monologue a short time later gives hers a run for its money.

If the performances aren’t spectacular enough, it was all done live during their 2017 Japan tour. The lack of crowd noises makes it hard to tell, as are the apparent lack of imperfections. Bright Force is further testament to the wide open artistry of Satoko Fujii, which allows room for the insertion of any artist with any instrument to not only find its place, but actually add to that artistry.


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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