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Interview 8/4 at 8 PM cet.
Satoko Fujii - Natsuki Tamura
(photo by Ryo Natsuki)
(photo by Natsuki Tamura)
“Fujii is clearly one of the most exciting musicians to come along in a while.” ― Robert Iannapollo, Cadence
“Unpredictable, wildly creative, and uncompromising…Fujii is an absolutely essential listen for anyone interested in the future of jazz." ― Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
“100 Years…100 Alumni” ― Profiling New England Conservatory’s Most Successful Alumni
Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer SATOKO FUJII as one of the most original voices in jazz today. A truly global artist, she splits her time between Berlin and Japan and tours internationally leading several ensembles. Just as her career spans international borders, her music spans many genres, blending jazz, contemporary classical music, rock, and traditional Japanese music into an innovative synthesis instantly recognizable as hers alone. Her wide-ranging compositions can incorporate the simple melodies of folk song, the harmonic sophistication of jazz, the rhythmic power of rock, and the extended forms of symphonic composers. Although Fujii’s compositions are full of sudden shifts in direction and mood, the extremes are always part of a greater conceptual whole. As an improviser, Fujii is equally wide-ranging and virtuosic. In her solos, explosive free jazz energy mingles with delicate melodicism and a broad palette of timbre and textures.
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 on nearly 70 CDs as leader or co-leader in less than 20 years. With each new recording or new band, she explores new aspects of her art.
Between 1997 and 2008, her New York trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black released seven critically acclaimed CDs. Cadence magazine described the group as “Beautiful and exciting by turns, and sometimes both at once.” Jason Bivins inSignal to Noise, praised the “dynamite unit” for its “improv delirium, hot grooves, and melodic dances. In 2004 trumpeter/husband Natsuki Tamura joined this trio to form the Satoki Fujii Four, which released the critically acclaimed Live in Japan 2004 and 2006’sWhen We Were There.
At the same time, she and Tamura began documenting their intimate duo music. By now, the pair have made five CDs for various labels in Europe and Japan. In his four-star Down Beat review of their most recent release, Chun (2008), Ted Panken wrote, “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.”
In 2001 came the radically different Vulcan (Libra Records), an avant-rock/free jazz fusion album by a new group, the Satoko Fujii Quartet featuring Tatsuya Yoshida of the Japanese avant-rock duo, The Ruins. “The sensibility here is aggressive to the point of primitive,” said Bill Bennett in JazzTimes. “Vulcan is … a masterpiece of jazz expression.” Between 2001 and 2007, each of the Japanese quartet’s five albums, including Zephyros (Polystar, 2004) and Angelona (Libra, 2005), received equally enthusiastic approval. Toh-Kichi, her duo with the quartet’s drummer Yoshida, released CDs in 2002 and 2004.
Even as she led these disparate small ensembles, moving with equal vigor in widely divergent directions, Fujii also embarked one of the most important aspects of her career―composer, leader, and soloist with some of the most innovative large jazz ensemble of the past twenty years. In 1996, she founded 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. Over the course of eight albums, Fujii has “reinvigorated the big-band concept for the new century – and placed herself at the forefront of the style at the same time,” according to Marc Chénard in Coda. Jordan Richardson in Blinded by Sound called their most recent release, ETO (Libra), a “piece of big band magic.”
Orchestra Tokyo, founded a year later in 1997, draws on that city’s best improvisers, and has recorded four CDs to date. Writing inAll About Jazz, Dan McClenaghan praised the band for its “Power, exuberance, fierce soloing…moments of beauty, serenity, delicacy interspersed with seismic Elvis Costello ‘Pump it Up’ percussion/bass modes that lead into gentle classical harmony… Fujii is an absolutely essential listen for anyone interested in the future of jazz.”
However, Fujii’s creative ideas for large ensemble cannot be fully encompassed by a mere two big bands, and she has gone on to work with two others―Orchestra Nagoya, with which she as recorded three CDs since 2004, Orchestra Kobe. In 2006 she released an unprecedented four CDs―one by each of these orchestras―at one time. Even four orchestras is not enough for the prolific composer-improviser. At the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival she premiered a fifth big band, the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Chicago.
As the new century progressed, Fujii continued to establish new ensembles. In 2006 came the co-operative trio Junk Box with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck.
Then in 2007, Fujii formed ma-do, a quartet included Tamura on trumpet, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and Akira Horikoshi, the drummer in the Orchestra Tokyo big band. The group showcased the latest developments in her composition for small ensembles, while playing in a more intimate acoustic setting that contrasted with the high-volume, rock-influenced Quartet. They made three impressive CDs before the tragic death of bassist Koreyasu in 2012. Alan Young in Lucid Culture called their second release, Desert Ship, a “characteristically fascinating, emotionally varied, richly melodic one by her pretty straight-up small combo Ma-Do…. Another triumph for this extraordinary composer.”
That same year, she established yet another acoustic quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble with Tamura, trombonist Hasselbring, and accordionist Andrea Parkins. Dedicated to developing written and improvised music in the collective spirit of Japanese folkloric music, the band has made two CDs. Writing in All About Jazz, Budd Kopman called their debut, Fujin Raijin, “a stupendous, almost terrifying record that shatters any and all expectations during its six tracks… If any music has the ability to change one’s life, this is it, making Fujin Raijin a powerful experience in which to revel.”
In addition to leading her small and large ensembles, Fujii has also engaged in many collaborative duo projects and ad hoc groups, and appeared as a member of ensembles led by others. With violinist Carla Kihlstedt, she has made two CDs, including Minamo, which Ben Ratliff of the New York Times says “is extraordinary, a series of tight, dramatic events.” She has also released a limited edition duo recording with pianist Myra Melford, Under the Water. A meeting between Fujii and Tamura and Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg and trumpeter Angelo Verploegen is documented on Crossword Puzzle. She has also toured and recorded with saxophonist Larry Ochs’ Sax and Drum Core, and appeared on albums by drummer Jimmy Weinstein, saxophonist Raymond McDonald, and Japanese free jazz legend, trumpeter Itaru Oki. She is a regular member of Tamura’s Gato Libre quartet, in which she plays accordion, and First Meeting, and played synthesizer in his quartet between 2002 and 2004.
Fujii tours as relentlessly as she records. She has appeared live on every continent except Antarctica, performing at festivals, concert halls, and clubs. In 2013, she was honored with three nights on which to present her music at the Beilefelder Festival on Germany. In August and September of that year, she presented a week of music by several of her bands at The Stone in New York City, showcased the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Chicago which debuted at the Chicago Jazz Festival and toured the US and Canada with her international quartet Kaze. Featuring Fujii and Tamura along with trumpeter Christian Pruvost, and drummer Peter Orins from France, Kaze has earned wide acclaim. As Virginia Schaefer said of the live show in JazzTimes, “Intense and playful, down-to-earth and international, Kaze communicates in a musical language of contrasts and continuity.” Jon Garelick writes in Giant Steps, “Kaze takes jazz abstraction to a sublime limit…. There is suspense, virtuosity, mystery, calm.” Their debut recording Rafale (2011) earned acclaim from Mark Medwin, The New York City Jazz Record, as “a stunning achievement from note one…” Their second CD Tornado (August 2013), earned similar acclaim. Jordan Richardson writes in Canadian Audiophile, “This is invigorating music, a palette of sound that can’t be plotted with ease.” And Greg Edwards of Gapplegate Music Review called it, “exhilarating…. One of the best I've heard this year!”
In 2013, Fujii also set off on a new musical adventure with the Satoko Fujii New Trio, featuring bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani―her first piano trio since 2008. The group released their debut recording, Spring Storm, that same year.
Fujii tirelessly continues to explore the possibilities and expand the parameters of the many groups she’s established over the years, and there is certainly more provocative and exciting listening in store as she pursues her ultimate goal: “I would love to make music that no one has heard before.”
Japanese trumpeter and composer NATSUKI TAMURA is internationally recognized for his ability to blend a unique vocabulary of extended techniques with touching jazz lyricism. This unpredictable virtuoso “has some of the stark, melancholy lyricism of Miles, the bristling rage of late 60s Freddie Hubbard and a dollop of the extended techniques,” according to Mark Keresman of JazzReview.com. Tamura’s seamlessly limitless creativity led Fran輟is 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…”
Since 2005, Tamura has focused on the intersection of European folk music and sound abstraction with Gato Libre, a quartet featuring Satoko Fujii on accordion, Tsumura Kazuhiko on guitar, and Koreyasu Norikatsu 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 for Libraries. 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.”
Earlier bands led by the constantly exploring trumpeter have been very different in character. Peter Marsh of the BBC had this to say of the 2003 Natsuki Tamura Quartet release Hada Hada: “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 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.” Cut the Rope, the debut release by his most recent quartet, First Meeting, featuring Fujii, drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and electric guitarist Kelly Churko, “is a noisy, free, impatient album, and ranks among Fujii and Tamura’s most accomplished,” according to Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe.
Since 1997, his ongoing duet with pianist (and wife) Satoko Fujii has recorded four CDs and won accolades from critics and audiences alike. “The wife-husband team from Japan was simply brilliant,” says Steve Feeney of the Portland Press Herald. “Though their work has a fair amount of compositional structure, it consistently reveals a wide-open and unpredictable nature that makes its performance a thrilling ride for the listener.” In addition to their intimate duo performances, Tamura collaborates on many of Fujii’s own projects, including her current ma-do quartet, and big bands in New York, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe.
Born on July 26, 1951 in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, Tamura first picked up the trumpet while performing in his junior high brass band. He studied at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music and has taught at the Yamaha Popular Music School and at private trumpet studios in Tokyo and Saitama. He is also a regular member of saxophonist-composer Larry Ochs’ Sax and Drumming Core, and performs as an unaccompanied soloist as well.
“As unconventional as he may be, Natsuki Tamura is unquestionably one of the most adventurous trumpet players on the scene today,” notes Marc Chenard in Coda magazine. He “is very much part of a long lineage of free-spirited trumpeters, encompassing the likes of Freddie Keppard, Bubber Miley and Rex Stewart, and more contemporary stylists such as Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Bill Dixon and Leo Smith.”