Live at Big Apple in Kobe
Yes, Satoko Fujii is a wonderful pianist, both in terms of composition and improvisation; 2018's series of 60th birthday releases, of which Live at Big Apple Kobe is one, has demonstrated that beyond doubt; but, like Miles Davis, she has an uncanny knack for assembling ensembles! Mahobin's debut is both slow burner and scorcher, and it is just one more testament to her abilities as a leader. Along with long-time collaborator Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, we hear saxophonist Lotte Anker as well as the immediately recognizable electronics of Ikue Mori. She is an inspired addition to the group; she becomes and replaces the rhythm section with transparent percussive playing in a seemingly endless variety of articulations and decays, but her work is also orchestral, providing melodic backdrop and rhythmic support.
The music is divided into one brief and one epic work, the latter, "Rainbow Elephant," opening the disc. Full-boar group improv is rare, the four musicians choosing a path through, or perhaps highlighting, duet, trio and solo contributions. Tamura's solo is particularly effective, as is the dialogue between Anker and Fujii. The pianist digs deep into the lower register for sparse melodies, works inside the piano as well as preparing it and wringing every dynamic and motivic nuance out of the middle register, complementing Mori's exploration of spectral extremities. Anker's playing can be both strident and atmospheric. It is even difficult to hear her presence on the piquant but subdued opening of "Yellow Sky," where the group improvisation functions in remarkable restraint, each member listening and responding with obvious intensity.
Fujii and Mori hold things together with music that is simultaneously referential and radical. If the opening of "Yellow Sky" doesn't bring back Star Wars memories, nothing will, and Fujii's inter-register chords propelling the middle section of "Rainbow Elephant" are as Romantic as her prepared piano is contemporary. The two melodic instruments up their rhythmic game to keep pace with the moment-to-moment sound-worlds that the "rhythm section" creates, and the excellently recorded disc is a joy from end to end.
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