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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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SATOKO FUJII
ORCHESTRA BERLIN

Ichigo Ichie

Libra Records 212-037

 

 

  1. Ichigo Ichie 1

  2. Ichigo Ichie 2

  3. Ichigo Ichie 3

  4. Ichigo Ichie 4

  5. ABCD


Matthias Schubert, Gebhard Ullmann - Tenor sax

Paulina Owczarek - Baritone sax

Natsuki Tamura, Richard Koch, Nikolaus Neuser - Trumpet

Matthias Müller - Trombone

Kazuhisa Uchihashi - Guitar

Satoko Fujii - Piano

Jan Roder - Bass

Michael Griener, Peter Orins - Drums


For almost twenty years, pianist and composer Satoko Fujii has pioneered a distinctive way of operating within the big band tradition. She has previously established orchestras in the Japanese cities of Kobe, Nagoya and Tokyo, in New York and now in Berlin, to play her idiosyncratic brand of jazz. Tokyo-born, she originally moved to the USA to study at Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. At present, she lives with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, in Berlin where this recording took place. She has featured on more than 70 CDs during the course of her career. Over that time, she has worked with a duo, a trio, a quartet and an avant-rock group! All this, and the demands implicit in setting up the orchestras. She sounds as if she has limitless energy.

Four of the tracks on this album were composed for the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival under the collective title Ichigo Ichie (a rough translation of the Japanese would be 'once in a lifetime') and Fujii describes it as as a philosophy of valuing, and being fully present in, the present moment, as in tea ceremonies in her native land. This is the first time the four-movement work has actually been recorded. The final piece, ABCD, is a recently composed experimental piece, once more by Fujii. Rather than saying much about the individual tracks on this disc, I want to make some more general comments about the music and the performance. The first is to draw attention to the dynamic contribution made by drummers Michael Griener and Peter Orins to the whole proceedings, from the three minutes of solid drumming at the commencement of Ichigo Ichie 1, through to the conclusion of ABCD, where the orchestra blow their collective top. The second point is to do with the element of surprise, best illustrated by the start of ABCD, when it sounds at first as if there isn't going to be any music, whether because there's a fault on the disc or the player, we don't know. It seems, if anything, like the sound of silence. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, the band appears and builds. On Ichigo Ichie 2, as a further example, a vigorous beginning leads to silence or the band builds up a head of steam, only to dissipate it. So, we need to keep our wits about us. More importantly, I came to admire the collective sound of the orchestra. Under the wave of sound they often create, it seems like Duke Ellington (or is it Charles Mingus?) is trying to break out. Impressive, as is the calibre of the brass section. I was less certain about the solos, dissonance not being my thing. If, however, you want to sample Fujii's piano style, ABCD will give you more of her playing than any other track.

How, then, to describe the overall impact of the disc. The words that come to mind are edgy, abstract, experimental (and consistently interesting). I'm sure that there's an audience for Fujii's music, as represented here, among lovers of the avant-garde or of free jazz. The jazz family is a broad church - long may it be so.

James Poore



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