Satoko Fujii's amazing Orchestra New York returns with a composition that she describes as "a picture that extends beyond the canvas", performed with Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss, Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby, Andy Laster, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, &c &c.
Fujii, Satoko New York Orchestra
Released in: Japan
"The vast majority of jazz big bands in the current age are little more than replicas from big bands' golden age, and as competent as they usually are, such records only make me want to go back and listen to the original innovators such as Ellington and Basie who inspired all the those copycats.
Pianist, composer and bandleader Satoko Fujii is the exception who proves the rule, because aside from perhaps George Russell and Sun Ra to a certain degree, her large ensemble music doesn't sound much like big band music anywhere else. A lot of that has to do with her willingness to draw from every mood, every style and every impulse at her disposal; she never boxes herself or her band inside artificial constraints.
Her Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York is full of well-regarded bandleaders, composers and musicians, such as Oscar Noriega, Ellery Eskelin, Andy Laster, Steven Bernstein, Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler and Fujii's husband, trumpet player Natsuki Tamura. This is a testament to Tokyo-based Fujii's status as a first among equals within the world epicenter of creative jazz.
Fujii thrives on using the jarring juxtaposition of the dissonant, free form improvisation of her star soloists and the scored melodiousness of a full orchestra. It turns the thirty-six minute epic "Shiki" into a series of digestible acts, which frequently bleed into one another. Beginning with a sax drone, some drawn out chords by all the horns are punctuated by a brief drum solo from Aaron Alexander, and then a larger, collective drone emerges as the drums rumble underneath. From there, the piece vacillates from free playing by one or two soloists and elegant statements bolstered by the full weight of the orchestra. Near the end, fretless electric assist Stomu Takeishi gets his own spotlight, too.
"Gen Himmel," which mean "heavenwards" in German, is adapted from the title song of a solo piano Fujii album released just last year. In this large band format, an uneasy mood emanates from the drums and a handful of horns open the song. Meanwhile, the rest of the horns emerge with a stately, anthemic figure. The two competing streams seemingly tug at each other, trying in vain to knock the other side off track.
On every orchestra record, Fujii will inevitably do something madcap, and that's represented on this album by the Tamura-penned "Bi Ga Do Da." A brief plunged trumpet remark is followed by spoken gibberish. An eerie muted sound coming from some unknown horn interrupts for a moment. Then suddenly a sing-song chant over a thumping rock beat comes crashing in, and a trumpet breaks out soloing followed by more chanting. The band stops, yelling commences, yelling stops and the groove restarts; rinse and repeat. The song structure is simple and goofy but the zeal, swagger and campy humor is where the creativity of the song is invested. When I state that Fujii uses every imaginable means to create a work of musical art, I really mean it."-S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews
"Gen Himmel" (German for "toward heaven") is a spiritually meditative composition by pianist Satoko Fujii off of her new album, "Shiki," with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York. Originally recorded as the title track to Fujii's 2013 solo CD, the piece is dedicated to Norikatsu Koreyasu, the bassist in Satoko's ma-do quartet who died unexpectedly in 2011.
• Show Bio for Natsuki Tamura
"Japanese trumpeter and composer Natsuki Tamura is internationally recognized for a unique musical vocabulary that blends extended techniques with jazz lyricism. This unpredictable virtuoso's seemingly limitless creativity led François Couture in All Music Guide to declare that "... we can officially say there are two Natsuki Tamuras: The one playing angular jazz-rock or ferocious free improv... and the one writing simple melodies of stunning beauty... How the two of them live in the same body and breathe through the same trumpet might remain a mystery."
Born on July 26, 1951, in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, Tamura first picked up the trumpet while performing in his junior high brass band. He began his professional music career after he graduated from high school, playing in numerous bands including the World Sharps Orchestra, Consolation, Skyliners Orchestra, New Herd Orchestra, Music Magic Orchestra, and the Satoko Fujii Ensemble, as well as in his own ensemble. He was the trumpeter for numerous national television shows in Japan from 1973-1982, including The Best Ten, Music Fair, Kirameku Rhythm and many others.
In 1986, he came to the United States to study at Berklee College of Music. He then returned to his native Japan to perform and teach at the Yamaha Popular Music School and at private trumpet studios in Tokyo and Saitama, before coming back to the US to study at New England Conservatory. He made his debut recording as a leader in 1992 on Tobifudo.
In 1997 he released the duo album How Many? with pianist Satoko Fujii, who is also his wife. It marked the beginning of an artistic collaboration that continues up to the present. The duo has made a total of five CDs over the years, including 2012's Muku. "Muku contains some truly stunning, spine-tingling music...its sheer beauty and elegance is what lingers most," wrote Dave Wayne in All About Jazz. "Fujii's orchestral technique, clear chromatic lines and "prepared piano" devices contrast effectively with Tamura's arsenal of extended techniques which he executes with a warm, vocalized tone throughout the trumpet's full range," Ted Panken said in his four-star DownBeat review. Tamura's collaborations with Fujii reveal an intense musical empathy, and have garnered wide popular and critical acclaim. Jim Santella in All About Jazz described their synergy well in his glowing review of the couple's 2006 Not Two disc, In Krakow, In November: "... the creative couple forcefully demonstrates what can happen when you let your musical ideas run free... Similarly, Tamura's mournful trumpet can fly high or low in search of his next surprise. Oftentimes, they both issue plaintive moans that sing like angels on high." Their sixth duet album is due out in 2017.
In 1998, Tamura began recording his unaccompanied solo performances. The stunning solo trumpet debut release, A Song for Jyaki earned a Writers Choice 1998 in Coda magazine, and Andy Bartlett wrote in Coda, "A fabulous set of hiccuping leaps, drones and post-bop trumpet hi-jinx. Tamura goes from growling lows to fluid, free solo runs and echoes not only Don Cherry's slurring anti-virtuosic chops but also Kenny Wheeler's piercing highwire fullness." He followed it up in 2003 with KoKoKoKe, which Jon Davis described in Exposé as "Buddhist chants from an alien planet." Grego Applegate Edwards explains that on Tamura's most recent solo album, 2013's Dragon Nat, "he pares down to focus on simple unwinding melodic material, the sound of his trumpet as a sensuous thing, a periodicity. Taken as a whole it is a kind of environmental tone poem for the moment Natsuki is in now."
2003 was a breakout year for Tamura as a bandleader, with the release of Hada Hada, featuring his free jazz-avant rock quartet with Fujii on synthesizer. Peter Marsh of the BBC had this to say about the high voltage CD: "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. It might be an unlikely scenario, but it goes some way to describing this magnificent sprawl of a record." The quartet's 2004 Quartet release Exit was deemed "...a brilliantly executed set with a neon glow," by Dan McClenaghan in All About Jazz.
In 2005, Tamura made a 180-degree turn in his music with the debut of his all acoustic Gato Libre quartet. Focusing on the intersection of European folk music and sound abstraction, the quartet featured Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. The quartet'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. Dan McClenaghan in All About Jazz described their fourth CD, Shiro, as "intimate, something true to the simple beauty of the folk tradition...Tamura's career has largely been about dissolving musical boundaries. With Gato Libre and Shiro, the trumpeter extends his reach even deeper into the prettiest, most accessible of his endeavors." After the unexpected passing of Norikatsu in 2012, Tamura added trombonist Yasuko Kaneko to the group. The new configuration has toured Europe and Japan and released its debut recording, DuDu, in 2014. "DuDu follows the winning formula of its predecessors but, as with the other discs, eschews the formulaic. The result is another sublimely satisfying, elegant record that brims with raw excitement and a reflective nostalgia," writes Hrayr Attarian in All About Jazz. With the tragic death of guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura, Gato Libre is now a trio. They will release a CD and LP in 2017.
In 2010, Tamura debuted a new electric quartet, First Meeting, featuring Fujii, drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and electric guitarist Kelly Churko. Their first release, Cut the Rope, is "is a noisy, free, impatient album, and ranks among Fujii and Tamura's most accomplished," according to Steve Greenlee in the Boston Globe.
While fronting groups and recording as a leader, Tamura has also played an integral role in nearly all of Satoko Fujii's many projects. He is featured on all of the CDs by Satoko Fujii's various orchestras (NY, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, and Berlin) and has contributed original compositions and arrangements to each of their 19 critically celebrated albums. In addition, he was a featured soloist in the Satoko Fujii Quartet, her avant-rock free jazz group that also included Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. Of his work on the quartet's 2003 release Minerva, Mark Keresman wrote in JazzReview.com, "Natsuki Tamura's trumpet has some of the stark, melancholy lyricism of Miles, the bristling rage of late 60s Freddie Hubbard and a dollop of the extended techniques of Wadada Leo Smith and Lester Bowie."
Tamura is a vital member of Fujii's Min-Yo Ensemble as well. "Tamura tempers his avant-garde antics with an innate lyricism," wrote Steve Smith of Time Out New York in his review of Fujin Raijin, the intimate acoustic quartet's debut CD. He's also been singled out for his contributions to Fujii's ma do ensemble. "With Tamura's brash and glowing lines, the band incorporates mesmeric ostinatos and thrusting opuses into the grand schema," Glenn Astarita wrote in Ejazznews about their first CD, Desert Ship.
Collaborative groups also play an important role in Tamura's career. Most recently, Tamura joined Fujii and two French musicians, trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins, to form Kaze, which made their recording debut in 2011. In 2015, they released their third album, Uminari, which Jazz Magazine (France) called, "a compelling example of free jazz today. Compositions are perfectly scripted, with a well-oiled interaction and playing of beautiful power..." The collaborative trio Junk Box, which he co-founded in 2006 along with pianist Fujii and drummer John Hollenbeck, plays Fujii's "composed improvisations," graphic scores that take "ensemble dynamics to great creative heights," says Kevin Le Gendre in Jazzwise. Their music "is full of bluster and agitation that nonetheless retains moments of great melodic beauty, usually by way of concise, pertly pretty motifs that trumpeter Tamura plays in between bursts of withering roars that often dissolve into austere overtones." Their premiere CD, Fragment, appeared in 2006. As Daniel Spicer wrote of Fragment in JazzWise, "Tamura spits out gloriously rude Lester-Bowie-like snorts, lows like a herd of robotic cattle or makes like a wheezy howler monkey... Cool and clever." Glenn Astarita of All About Jazz declared it "Required listening."
Along the way, there have been one-off cooperative groups and sideman appearances for Tamura as well. In the Tank, an ad hoc quartet with Fujii and electric guitarists Takayuki Kato and Elliott Sharp, is a "triumphant electro-acoustic adventure" according to Daniel Spicer of Jazzwise. "Think AMM meets blues guitar meets 1970s Miles Davis and you get some idea of the disc's flavor: a slow-moving panorama for the ears, where sounds are systematically added, repeated, refined, and replaced in turn," wrote Nate Dorward in Cadence. Tamura and Fujii were one of two piano/trumpet duos featured on the Double Duo Crossword Puzzle CD, a live recording with Dutch trumpeter Angelo Verploegen and pianist Misha Mengelberg. Tamura has also toured and recorded with saxophonist Larry Ochs' Sax and Drumming Core, and appeared on albums by drummer Jimmy Weinstein, saxophonist Raymond McDonald, and CDs by Japanese free-jazz pioneers trumpeter Itaru Oki and pianist Masahiko Sato. In 2014 he released Nax, a duet album with bassist Alexander Frangenheim. Tamua has toured throughout Japan, North America, and Europe, appearing at major jazz festivals, concert halls, and clubs."-Natsuki Tamura Website (http://www.natsukitamura.com/bio)
^ Hide Bio for Natsuki Tamura
• Show Bio for Steven Bernstein
"Steven Bernstein (born October 8, 1961), is an American trumpeter, slide trumpeter, arranger/composer and bandleader from New York City, who lives outside of musical convention.
He is best known for his work as an arranger and a trumpet player in his bands Sexmob, the Millennial Territory Orchestra, The Lounge Lizards, Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9, and The Midnight Ramble Band, which have garnered him four DownBeat® Critics Poll Awards, three GRAMMY® Awards, one GRAMMY® Award nomination, and a London Times "Jazz Record of the Year" Award. He has worked on over 131 recordings and has played with a diverse group of jazz giants such as Rosewell Rudd, Sam Rivers, Don Bryon, David Murray, Dave Berger, Mocean Worker, and Medeski, Martin & Wood, and others including My Morning Jacket, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, Digable Planets, Sting, Courtney Love, and Ryuichi Sakamoto."-Steven Bernstein Website (http://www.stevenbernstein.net/bio/)
^ Hide Bio for Steven Bernstein
• Show Bio for Satoko Fujii
"Born on October 9, 1958 in Tokyo, Japan, Fujii began playing piano at four and received classical training until twenty, when she turned to jazz. From 1985-87, she studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where her teachers included Herb Pomeroy and Bill Pierce. She returned to Japan for six years before returning to the US to study at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where her teachers included George Russell, Cecil McBee, and Paul Bley, who appeared on her debut CD Something About Water (Libra, 1996).
Since then Fujii has been an innovative bandleader and soloist, a tireless seeker of new sounds, and a prolific recording artist in ensembles ranging from duos to big bands. She has showcased her astonishing range and ability approximately 80 CDs as leader or co-leader. With each new recording or new band, she explores new aspects of her art.
Regular collaborations include her New York trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, augmented by trumpeter/husband Natsuki Tamura to form the Satoki Fujii Four; her duo with Tamura; the Satoko Fujii Quartet featuring Tatsuya Yoshida of the Japanese avant-rock duo, The Ruins; Orchestra New York, which boasts the cream of New York's contemporary avant garde improvisers, including saxophonists Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby, trumpeters Herb Roberton and Steven Bernstein, and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, among others; Orchestra Tokyo, drawing on that city's best improvisers; Orchestra Nagoya; Orchestra Kobe; the co-operative trio Junk Box with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck; ma-do, a quartet including Tamura on trumpet, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and Akira Horikoshi; the Min-Yoh Ensemble with Tamura, trombonist Hasselbring, and accordionist Andrea Parkins; the Satoko Fujii New Trio, featuring bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani― plus countless engagements and collaborations with some of the world's most important improvisers."-Satoko Fujii Website (http://www.satokofujii.com/bio.html)
^ Hide Bio for Satoko Fujii
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Catalog ID: 215-036
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Recorded on January 15, 2013at Kaleidoscope Sound, Union City, New Jersey, by Sal Mormando
Oscar Noriega-alto sax
Briggan Krauss-alto sax
Ellery Eskelin-tenor sax
Tony Malaby-tenor sax
Andy Laster-baritone sax
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1. Shiki 36:35
2. Gen Himmel 6:29
3. Bi Ga Do Da 10:06
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