Satoko Fujii Turns 60!
International supergroup Mahobin delivers one sonic surprise after another on debut release Live at Big Apple in Kobe
Quartet features pianist-composer Satoko Fujii, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, saxophonist Lotte Anker, and electronics from Ikue Mori
“Fujii’s sound world is a kaleidoscope, and those familiar with her work have come to expect the unexpected. If any artist can be said to meet expectations by upsetting them, she’s one.”
― Mike Chamberlain, Coda
Although they had never before performed as a group, the members of Mahobin have worked together in other formats. Mori and Fujii collaborated for the first time in 2013 during Fujii’s residency at The Stone. Then in 2016, Fujii and Anker joined Mori at her Stone residency. Anker later joined Fujii and Tamura for a 2017 tour of Japan. This year, Fujii decided the time was right for them to converge in one group to see what might emerge.
Mori came up with the band’s unusual name. “Mahobin” is a Japanese word for “thermos,” but it literally means “magic bottle.” They all loved the name. “It’s nice to have a band name with the word ‘magic’ in it,” Fujii says, “and I like it because a thermos keeps everything in it hot for a long time.”
And the music does stay hot for long stretches during the two improvisations that comprise the CD. “Rainbow Elephant” slowly wends its way through passage after passage of astonishing sounds, following a slowly evolving path. There’s a continuous weave of sound—sparkling electronics; saxophone clicks and cries; textured, breathy drones on the trumpet; and subtle prepared piano timbres. The sound expands and contracts, dense one moment, open and airy the next. Fujii plays a long melodic arc with scintillating sounds dancing underneath. Later, Anker starts her own extended melody, supported and embellished by the others. “Yellow Sky” grows more directly from soft electronic flutters and breathy tones on saxophone and trumpet to become progressively darker and more agitated with hot raspy trumpet, rumbling piano, clattering electronics, and wailing saxophone. The album is one of the most sustained abstract performances in the Fujii discography.
Fujii’s unprecedented birthday bash continues in August with Mizu a duet CD with Joe Fonda followed in September with a duet CD with Australian keyboardist Alister Spence. In the final months of the year, there will be a new recording by Orchestra Tokyo, a CD/DVD package featuring Fujii’s collaboration with percussive dancer Mizuki Wildenhahn, and a double CD of selections from Fujii’s “diary project” of compositions written each day before she practices, accompanied by the scores. The unforgettable outpouring of musical riches continues.
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.”
Throughout his career, Tamura has led bands with radically different approaches. On one hand, there are avant rock jazz fusion bands like his quartet, whose album Hada Hada Peter Marsh of the BBC described this way: “Imagine Don Cherry woke up one morning, found he'd joined an avant goth-rock band and was booked to score an Italian horror movie.” In contrast, Tamura has focused on the intersection of folk music and sound abstraction with Gato Libre since 2003.
The band’s poetic, quietly surreal performances have been praised for their “surprisingly soft and lyrical beauty that at times borders on flat-out impressionism,” by Rick Anderson in CD Hotlist. In addition, Tamura has recorded five CDs in his ongoing duo with pianist (and wife) Satoko Fujii. Tamura also collaborates on many of Fujii’s projects, from quartets and trios to big bands.
As an unaccompanied soloist, he’s released three CDs, including Dragon Nat (2014). He and Fujii are also members of Kaze, a collaborative quartet with French musicians, trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. “As unconventional as he may be,” notes Marc Chenard in Coda magazine, “Natsuki Tamura is unquestionably one of the most adventurous trumpet players on the scene today.”
Lotte Anker is a Copenhagen-based saxophone player and composer working in the field between experimental jazz/improvisation and contemporary music. Her music includes both melodic (often twisted or fragmented) elements and more abstract textural material and covers a wide territory from minimal, transparency to dense and dark expressionism. Her recent bands include a trio with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver and a trio with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and Ikue Mori.
She also leads the 8-piece What River Ensemble and the septet Electric Habitat. She performs in duo with Fred Frith and Sten Sandell and was a member of a cooperative quartet with the late trombonist Johannes Bauer, bassist John Edwards, and drummer Paul Lovens. In addition, Anker has performed at major festivals and concert spaces around the world and has also played and toured with Marilyn Crispell, Tim Berne, Okkyung Lee, Paal Nilssen-Love, Joelle Leandre, Raymond Strid, Sten Sandell, Andrew Cyrille, Phil Minton, Axel Dörner, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and many others. John Fordham writes in The Guardian, “Anker’s rich saxophone palette takes in skimming falsetto sounds like Evan Parker’s, but she also has a soulfully desolate quaver that recalls Albert Ayler, and a sense of narrative drama that keeps her in compelling motion between ghostly impressionistic effects and brusquely percussive exclamations.”
Lotte Anker, sax
Natsuki Tamura, trumpet
Ikue Mori, electronics
1 Rainbow Elephant 42:22
2 Yellow Sky 7:10