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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

Fujii, Satoko New York Orchestra: Shiki (Libra)
Label: Libra    
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.

"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 (

"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 (

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
NY Downtown & Jazz/Improv
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Product Information:

Label: Libra
Catalog ID: 215-036
Squidco Product Code: 19070

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2014
Country: Japan
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold 3 Panels
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

Natsuki Tamura-trumpet

Herb Robertson-trumpet

Steven Bernstein-trumpet

Dave Ballou-trumpet

Curtis Hasselbring-trombone

Joey Sellers-trombone

Joe Fiedler-trombone

Satoko Fujii-piano

Stomu Takeishi-bass

Aaron Alexander-drums

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Track Listing:

1. Shiki 36:35

2. Gen Himmel 6:29

3. Bi Ga Do Da 10:06