Available February 10, 2017 on Cortez Sound
Pianist Satoko Fujii’s first live solo recording is an introspective gem
Invisible Hand was recorded in concert at the intimate Cortez jazz club in Mito, Japan
“Satoko Fujii is one of the most original pianists in free jazz…” – Steve Greenlee, Boston Globe
“There is beauty in these melodies, there is purpose in the rhythms and there are moments of sheer playfulness.” – Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
It all came about when Fujii received an unexpected invitation to play at the jazz club Cortez in Mito, a city about 120 miles northeast of Tokyo, which is not particularly well known for its jazz scene. Club owner Teruhiko Ito wanted to book her on the recommendation of a friend who had seen her perform with her Tobira quartet in Tokyo. Fujii first came with Kaze, the collective quartet of which she is a member, and the audience was so enthusiastic about the band that Ito invited her back to play solo. The warmth of her reception and the intimacy of the club inspired a stellar performance. Ito was so pleased by what he heard that he decided to inaugurate his own label, Cortez Sound, with the release of the date.
For her first set, Fujii played completely improvised music, only the third time she had ever done that over the many years she’s been performing solo. “When I freely improvise, sometimes I decide ahead of time on a few things before I start playing,” she says. “For instance, I’ll pick the mood, tempo, length, structure, or some other element that I’ll use. But other times, I just sit down at the keyboard and see what happens.”
As followers of Fujii’s music might expect, her instincts as a composer help guide her improvisations, which develop organically with their own surprising logic and melodic coherence. “Thought” is a spare, lyrical improvisation composed of single note phrases and extended lines with only occasional left hand chord support. Fujii adds color and texture using dampened strings and the music slowly grows more rhapsodic before its recedes into silence. In contrast, “Increase” is built of short, nervous phrases that start and stop suddenly and lengthen into graceful, dissonant lines. Contrast between dense clusters of notes and untethered single note lines provide tension and release as the piece develops. “Hayese,” a Japanese word meaning “swift current” is an apt title for the rapid flow of ideas heard in the spontaneous creation.
Second set improvisations include “Inori,” which begins with subdued playing inside the piano, evoking harp-like sonorities and abstract sounds that seem almost electronic. When Fujii switches to the keyboard, her heavily embellished melodies take on the characteristics of an “out there” Art Tatum. “Green Cab” is a tour de force of piano-wire improvisation with plinky-plunky textures and silky glissandos setting up a section of abstract boogie-woogie pianistics. The second set also includes one of her loveliest compositions, the gospel tinged “Gen Himmel” (the title track of her previous solo album), and the sweepingly narrative “Spring Storm,” the title track of the debut album by her New Trio.
Over the years, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including The New Trio, Tobira, the ma-do quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble, and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. She has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, leading Cadence magazine to call her, “the Ellington of free jazz.” Her previous solo album, Gen Himmel (Libra) was praised by critic Francois Couture for “Strength, elegance, melodiousness that plays sharp contrasts with the atonal and angular aspects of her playing.
Short pieces establishing an intimate rapport with the listener without resorting to cheap tricks of seduction.” Her ultimate goal: “I would love to make music that no one has heard before.”
Over the years, Satoko Fujii has proved to be an exceptionally versatile, wide ranging, and often unpredictable composer, bandleader, and instrumentalist. Her solo playing highlights yet another side of her art, one that is introspective and melodic, but no less creative, surprising, and substantial.
That was perfect timing to perform with one of my projects, Kaze, which features Natsuki and two French musicians, Christian Pruvost and Peter Orins. The concert was set for January 2016. It was the first time I had visited Mito. On the day of the concert there was a snowstorm. I was amazed to see that people still came out to hear our music passionate music lovers, the enthusiastic club owner Mr. Ito, the manager Mr. Fujie, and their close friend Mr. Yaguchi were all waiting for us. Kaze is a band that uses a lot of noise which imposes a sense of tension in the audience. It was like a dream to see people embrace this kind of music in Mito, which is not a big city, and to find a venue that can offer music in these wonderful circumstances.
After the concert, Mr. Ito and Mr. Yaguchi took us to a Japanese style bar close to the hotel. I learned that they had been listening to my CDs and that they sometimes came to my concerts in Tokyo. I play music that I like, and I was so encouraged to learn that there were people enjoying our music in the city of Mito, which I had just visited for the first time! On the way to the hotel, I received another offer from Mr. Ito, this time to perform a solo concert in April 2016.
Playing solo is a little different from ensemble playing, because performing solo forces me to go deep into myself. The circumstances of Cortez and the enthusiasm there is reflected in the music. Supported by the audience, I was calm, facing myself, and breathing the air, picking notes one by one and weaving with them. The recording catches that irreplaceable time and meeting.
Recently I have been hearing that people everywhere in the world are losing interest in music and culture, and the situation is getting worse and worse. However, around Cortez there are no signs of that. Instead, there is a strong, deep, and unequivocal enthusiasm for music.
I played total improvisation in the first set, mixed with some written pieces in the second set. I would be very happy if you feel the music that breathes in the moment and expresses its life-size.
I sometimes don’t think I would know pianist Ms. Satoko Fujii if I didn’t work in this business. I remember her article in the magazine, “Out There” which I read a long time ago.
I opened the café Cortez, where people can listen to jazz by playing analogue and CDs, and often chatted with visitors about jazz and audio systems. One day a local band asked if they could perform, and since then Cortez has been known as a live concert venue. Around one year later one of Cortez’s regulars, Mr. Yaguchi, asked me if I knew the piano player Ms. Satoko Fujii. I only knew her by name. We started talking about having her perform at Cortez. The music on her CD strongly touches my heart and the desire to host her in concert rose day by day. After acquiring a grand piano and expanding the venue, I could finally invite her to perform with the band Kaze.
After the show, I decided I would like to hear her solo. I also dreamed of making a CD from the solo concert as the first Cortez CD. Surprisingly, she accepted my offer. Everyone at Cortez was excited by the project. We prepared the equipment, the venue, the photos, and all the other things that we could enthusiastically put together to support Ms. Fujii’s wonderful playing. Her solo piano playing and the acoustics of the venue blended perfectly, and this exquisite sound was recorded without losing any of its beauty. Please open your heart to the sound of the piano, which transcends the typical instrumental piano sound and is absorbed in the space.
I think this recording will show the world Ms. Fujii's rare ability to draw deep beauty, emotion, illusion, reality and view of the world from a very deep place in the human soul with her incredible piano sound.
As a person, Ms. Fujii possesses a gentle smile and friendly character that contrasts with her powerful persona in front of the piano. Now I’ve started traveling an endless trip with her.
This recording has been completed with the help of many people including Ms. Fujii.
I really appreciate this.
Thank you so much!
Teruhiko Ito, Cortez