Trying to Keep Up With Pianist Satoko Fujii’s Grey-Sky Majesty
What’s more amazing about Satoko Fujii‘s over eighty albums as a bandleader – that virtually all of them are worth owning? Or that she reached that epic number in about twenty years? It’s hard to imagine another artist building such a vast and consistently excellent, often transcendent body of work over that timeline.
The pianist has always been ahead of her time, touring relentlessly, releasing an average of four records a year (a dozen in 2018, to celebrate her sixtieth birthday). She’s got a three-day series of New York shows coming up next month with her husband Natsuki Tamura, the world’s number one samurai extended-technique trumpeter. On Dec 13 at 8:30 PM at the Stone at the New School the two will be remixed live by a frequent collaborator, Ikue Mori; cover is $20. The-following night, Dec 14 at the same time Fujii and Tamura are at I-Beam for five bucks less. Then on the 15th at 8 they’re at 244’s Black Box Theatre, 244 West 54th St., 10th Flo, time TBA.
Fujii is neither a particularly dark nor political person – although her music is often brooding and troubled, she’s actually very funny. Ironically, her most harrowing album to date is one she conducted rather than played on, the Fukushima Suite, with her improvisational Orchestra New York. That reflection on the terror in the wake of the March 11, 2011 nuclear meltdowns earned the designation of #1 album of the year here in 2017. Considering her prolific output, it’s hard to pick a single record to get stoked for her Manhattan and Brooklyn shows, although one recent release, this past summer’s Confluence, a live-in-the-studio duo set with drummer Ramon Lopez, is especially good and arguably her most minimalist so far. It hasn’t made its way to the usual online spots yet.
The album’s first track, Asatsuyu has a close resemblance to the Twin Peaks title theme…only more interesting and unpredictable. Lopez uses his brushes to ice the background as Fujii builds variations on a simple, forlorn theme, up to a majestic, latin-tinged crescendo and gracefully down again.
Fujii goes under the piano lid, way down in the lows, as album’s most epic number, Road Salt gets underway. From there the two rise from a muted majesty to a steady series of catchy, loopy, emphatic phrases, a cautiously boomy drum solo and a hammering coda that reminds of the Police’s Synchronicity (speaking of synchronicity, just wait til you see what’s on this page in about 48 hours!).
Run! Is a fun, picturesque, scampering interlude, followed by Winter Sky, a surrealistically crescendoing tableau, Fujii both under the hood and on the keys as Lopez evokes hailstones and banks of snowclouds. Three Days Later, the album’s most gorgeous track, is an understatedly moody, spacious neoromantic theme, Lopez’s rumbles shadowing Fujii’s somber chords.
Fujii pairs a coy cathedral chime-like theme and then an unexpectedly austere, wintry melody with Lopez’s syncopation in Tick Down. The two cautiously lowlight the lingering atmospherics of Quiet Shadow and close out the album with the austere stillness of the title track. Although it’s probably safe to say that Fujii had a lot of these ideas in her head or a sketchbook by the time she recorded the album, most of this music was most likely made up on the spot.