Mahobin (Satoko Fujii, Lotte Anker, Tamura Natsuki, Ikue Mori) – Live at Big Apple in Kobe (2018)

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For this eighth installment in her Monthly Satoko Fujii series celebrating the 60th year of this composer, bandleader and pianist, Fujii had decided to, once again, try out a new combination of musicians to see what happens. She’s previously worked with all the participants of this new quartet called Mahobin: Ikue Mori is a laptop specialist we last heard on Fujii’s 2017 collaboration with Wadada Leo Smith, Aspiration, and the year before Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker was joined by Fujii and Mori during Anker’s residency at the Stone. Lastly, there’s Fujii’s husband, the trumpeter Natsuki Tamura.

Fujii brought all four together for the first time not in a rehearsal room or a studio, but the Big Apple club in Kobe, Japan and in front of an audience where they collectively composed music on the spot. The very thought of launching a band like that would frighten most musicians, but these cats are wholly within their element. The gig was captured for their debut album Live at Big Apple in Kobe and despite this being part of Fujii’s birthday series, this group is very much a radical democracy.

There are only two tracks on here but this is hardly a single, because “Rainbow Elephant” runs forty-two minutes. This collective musical brainstorm begins the way a lot of Fujii-involved pieces do: with an uneasy calm. But what’s remarkable — particularly since they hadn’t played together before — is that it’s already hard to tell where Mori’s electro effects ends and the acoustic instruments begin. You can even be forgiven for thinking that there’s a freely-roaming percussion player in the ensemble, Mori is able to fill in that role rather skillfully from her laptop (she started out as a drummer, after all). Anker leads with long lines and Fujii follows right behind her. When Tamura takes over from Anker, he plays his trumpet with an endearingly haggard articulation in a way that no other trumpet player does.

When Fujii nudges her way to the front, her diction is much closer to classical than jazz, cascading out a sensitive series of ascending chords. When she reaches the summit, Anker is there to put some punctuation on it and then goes off into some Ayler-isms. It’s around this time where Mori’s bent circuitry becomes increasingly ‘outer space,’ and soon, everyone is playing unhindered in an electro-acoustic free-for-all that doesn’t sound incongruent in the least. Anker, Tamura and Mori settle down and eventually head to the sideline as Fujii improvises and mulls over a single, low note repeated with her left hand. Mori’s alien soundscapes get randomly peppered by Tamura’s equally alien puffs on the horn. Anker and Fujii also lightly tread on Mori’s artificial terrain, respecting the hushed atmosphere that she’s created. As Fujii’s final piano salvos die out, so does the song.

Mori again sets the table at the beginning for the performance; computer squeaks and squiggles launch “Yellow Sky,” leaving the other three to plot their reactions to him. Fujii ultimately decides to go on the attacks with a low rumble and the horn players go up high with shrill sonorities, and they eventually succeed in overwhelming the electronics.

The word ‘Mahobin’ means ‘thermos bottle’ but also ‘magic bottle’ in Japanese, and the magic made at the club that retained its passion throughout meant that this fledgling group had lived up to both meanings of the name. Live at Big Apple in Kobe will go on sale August 24, 2018 by Libra Records.

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