Saturday, April 28, 2018

Satoko Fujii: Kira Kira - Bright Force (LIBRA RECORDS 2018)

Satoko Fujii Turns 60!

Kira Kira, a Co-operative Band Featuring Musicians from Japan and Australia Deliver Powerful, Uplifting Music on new album Bright Force

Out April 27 via Libra Records, album features Fujii, Natsuki Tamura, Alister Spence, and Ittetsu Takemura

Pianist-composer Satoko Fujii explains that in Japanese, the name of this collaborative quartet, Kira Kira, means to sparkle or twinkle brilliantly. And that’s just what the music does on the band’s live recording Bright Force (Libra, April 27, 2018). Fujii, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, Australian keyboardist Alister Spence, and drummer Ittetsu Takemura form an incandescent group whose performance flashes powerfully with brilliant ideas, color, and feeling.

The band is an outgrowth of a long musical relationship between Fujii, Spence, and Tamura. They first met in 2008 when Spence’s trio shared a bill with Fujii’s ma-do quartet in Sydney, Australia. In the ensuing years, Spence and Fujii performed as a duet in Australia and later in Japan on a tour that also included concerts with Fujii’s orchestras in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kobe. In 2016, Australians Spence and drummer Tony Buck of The Necks joined their Japanese companions to form Kira Kira. The Melbourne Jazz Festival commissioned new compositions from band for their appearance at the festival that year. “We had so much fun that we wanted to play the compositions again in Japan,” Fujii says. 

They scheduled a tour of Japan in 2017, but a scheduling conflict prevented Buck from making the trip. Tamura suggested 32-year-old Takemura, whom he knew from working in the Fumio Itabashi band, to replace him. “We were all curious to see how differently the music would turn out with a different drummer,” Fujii says.

Happily, the music turned out so well they decided to release it on CD.

One of the album’s many delights is hearing how distinctive each composer’s contribution is and how the band members bring it to life. Spence’s “Because of the Sun” starts the album with a focused burst of shimmering energy. Fujii, Spence, and Takemura entwine in a roiling skein of sound that forms the basis for a carefully shaped piano solo from Fujii and some high-note pyrotechnics from Tamura. 

Tamura’s “Nat 4” is just as explosive as Spence’s piece, but utterly different. Tamura’s written melodies are bold and declamatory and when he solos, his high notes leap into the Louis Armstrong stratosphere. In his solo, Spence proves himself a melodic improviser prone to unpredictable turns of phrase as well as a shaper and constructor of highly detailed electronic sounds. The quartet shapes and reshapes the music, ranging from passages of rapid-fire exchanges of short spikey phrases to avant-rock episodes to slow, spacious, glimmering sections.

Kira Kira Bright Force

The three-part “Luna Lionfish” is a Fujii composition full of surreal juxtapositions and sharp contrasts that some how cohere into an organic whole. And while the band engages in close collective interplay while negotiating all the composition’s twists, there are also powerful individual solos as well. Tamura takes a wildly expressive muted solo on the second part; Fujii’s unaccompanied solo forms a bridge between the second and third parts; Takemura’s taut, exciting, and melodic drum solo is a highlight of part 3, and Spence is in the center of the action, adding color and texture to ensembles and matching wits in duets with different members of the band. 

“In this group it felt like we were having a party and everyone was having a good time,” Fujii says. “And that is always the best formula for making good music.”

Fujii’s unprecedented birthday bash continues in May with the release of Triad (Long Song Records), which showcases a one-time trio with Italian soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo and American bassist Joe Fonda. The summer months start to heat up in June with 1538 by This Is It!, a trio featuring Fujii with Tamura on trumpet and Takashi Itani on percussion. Later in the year, Fujii and bassist Fonda will follow up their acclaimed 2016 duo album with a new one. A new recording by Orchestra Tokyo and the debut of a new piano-bass-drums trio will also arrive. 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. 

Keyboardist-composer Alister Spence is “utterly compelling,” according to Jazz Journal, UK, and the Sydney Morning Herald calls him, “The cutting edge of modern Australia defined.” His trio of 20 years’ standing has toured the world and released six acclaimed CDs. Japanese trumpeter and composer Natsuki Tamura is internationally recognized for a unique musical vocabulary that blends extended techniques with jazz lyricism. He leads Gato Libre, a quartet that features Fujii on accordion, and performs as a duo with Fujii as well as in many of her other projects ranging from trio to orchestra. Ittetsu Takamura is a versatile young drummer who can not only hold his own in a band like Kira Kira but also works regularly with saxophonist Sadao Watanabe. 

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 her trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, 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, in 2017.

 “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 in 2017 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 Solo (Libra), the first of her projected 12 birthday-year albums, led Dan McClenaghan to enthuse in All About Jazz, that the album “more so than her other solo affairs—or any of her numerous ensembles for that matter—deals in beauty, delicacy of touch, graceful melodicism.” As the leader of no less than five orchestras in the U.S., Germany, and Japan, 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.”