Satoko Fujii turns 60!
Pianist/composer launches birthday CD marathon with a stunning solo album
Fujii begins her yearlong plan to release one CD a month with an introspective masterpiece
recorded live in concert
“Unpredictable, wildly creative, and uncompromising… Fujii is an absolutely essential listen for anyone interested in the future of jazz.” ― Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
“One of the most original pianists in free jazz.” ― Steve Greenlee, Boston Globe
“She could be the most important creative musician of our time.” ― Michael Nastos, allmusic
The stars aligned when pianist-composer Satoko Fujii sat down at the piano in Yumemikan Hall in the Japanese city of Yawatahama for the afternoon piano recital captured on her latest CD, Satoko Fujii: Solo (January 26, 2018, Libra Records). The piano, a superb instrument, expertly tuned by a technician who knew it well, sounded rich with a crystalline tone. The hall’s superior acoustics captured the nuances of her every note. Fujii had arrived the day before the concert and was well rested and relaxed. And when she began to play, she simply let the music flow in one of most deeply felt and inspired performances of hers ever captured on disc. The first of twelve recordings she plans to release in 2018 in celebration of her 60th birthday, the CD deserves a place in the canon of great solo piano albums, alongside those by Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, and Bill Evans.
“For a piano player, it’s hard to make bad music when you have a good piano in a good acoustic space,” Fujii says modestly. “I was lucky to play this piano. I just enjoyed playing it and didn't try to make it sound good because it already sounded great. The good acoustics helped me take my time and not push my playing hard all the time. The beautiful echo in the room was there and I included it in my performance.”
This magical confluence of artist, instrument, and setting results in one of Fujii’s most ravishingly beautiful solo performances on record. Her approach is slow and deliberate as she engages in an intense interior meditation of sound and melody in a subtle, surprising, and boundlessly imaginative performance. On “Inori,”—a composition she’s recorded in solo, duo, and big band settings—improvised melodies reveal themselves slowly, with notes allowed to linger and fade. Sometimes sharp dissonant phrases gesture threateningly at the silence, but tensions melt away into pensive, graceful lines. She reaches back into the American jazz tradition to play Jimmy Guiffre’s “Moonlight,” something she hasn’t done since 1999’s Kitsune-bi (Tzadik).
Throughout the concert, Fujii not only displays her virtuoso command of the keyboard, but she also uses the strings inside of the piano, and sometimes the body of the piano itself, to create a unique sound world. “Ninepin,” last heard on her 2004 album Live in Japan (Polystar/NatSat), evokes the sounds of Indian classical music and Javanese gamelan in an ethereal, otherworldly tone painting.
For Fujii the blend of keyboard and extended techniques comes naturally. “I don't want to limit myself or exclude anything when I make music,” she says. “I think music allows me total freedom to do anything. When it feels right, I just reach inside piano and play the strings. For me it is not a special thing. I want it all to be part of my music—playing the keyboard, the strings … or whatever.”
Up next in Fujii’s unprecedented birthday bash is the fiercely energetic Atody Man (Circum Libra), the sixth release featuring KAZE, the collaborative group with trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. March will see the releases of Ninety-Nine Years (Libra), the latest from Orchestra Berlin. A new one from Orchestra Tokyo is also planned.
In addition, the dozen new releases will include the recording debuts of a new piano-bass-drums trio and This Is It!, a trio featuring Fujii with Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Takashi Itani on percussion. Also slated is Intelsat, a duet with Australian pianist Alister Spence and May (Long Song Records), which showcases a one-time trio with Italian soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo and American bassist Joe Fonda, with whom Fujii released a critically acclaimed duo album in 2016.
Other surprises and delights will be in store over the course of the year, in what is sure to be an unforgettable outpouring of musical riches.
Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today. She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a bandleader who gets the best collaborators to deliver," says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on more than 80 albums as a leader or co-leader, she synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock and Japanese folk music into an innovative music instantly recognizable as hers alone. Over the years, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including the ma-do quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble, and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins.
Her ongoing duet project with husband Natsuki Tamura released their sixth recording, Kisaragi, this year. “The duo's commitment to producing new sounds based on fresh ideas is second only to their musicianship,” says Karl Ackermann in All About Jazz. Aspiration, a CD by an ad hoc band featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Tamura, and Ikue Mori, was released this year to wide acclaim. “Four musicians who regularly aspire for greater heights with each venture reach the summit together on Aspiration,” writes S. Victor Aaron in Something Else.
She records infrequently as an unaccompanied soloist, but her latest solo album, Invisible Hand, led Dan McClenaghan in All About Jazz to praise her “stream of ideas, eschewing repetition and cliché in the crafting of her solo work, her loveliest and most accessible music.
” Fujii 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.”