The electrifying jazz pianist Satoko Fujii performs with her quartet Tobira, featuring Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Todd Nicholson (bass) and Takashi Itani (drums), on Saturday, November 21, 2015 at The Sanctuary for Independent Media (3361 6th Avenue) in Troy NY. Admission to the all-ages concert is $15. Call (518) 272-2390 or email [email protected] for more information.
A master of reinvention, Satoko Fujii transformed her New Trio into the wildly inventive quartet Tobira with the addition of trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. The band’s debut CD, Yamiyo Ni Karasu, was released July 14, 2015 by Libra Records, showcasing her electrifying quartet with Natsuki Tamura, Todd Nicholson and Takashi Itani.
“If it were possible to give ten stars to Yamiyo Ni Karasu, it would deserve every single one for its power, inventiveness and the sheer ecstasy of creation in the moment.” — Budd Kopman, All About Jazz
“Satoko Fujii is one of the more arresting new voices in jazz, an intriguing pianist and composer who [creates] personal intersections between the music of her native Japan and the traditions of free jazz. In the process, she’s developing genuinely exciting and original music.” — Stuart Broomer, Coda
“Fujii continues to explore the connections between composition and improvisation with enthralling melodies and make room for rounds of wild abandon.” — Alain Drouot, DownBeat
Band website: www.satokofujii.com
Review of new CD release Yamiyo Ni Karasu in All About Jazz.
The Satoko Fujii New Trio, Todd Nicholson and drummer/percussionist Takashi Itani, released its own debut, Spring Storm, in 2013. As the band toured Japan, Europe and North America in the ensuing months they were often joined by Tamura, Fujii’s husband and frequent collaborator.
“Natsuki brings a very special character to the music,” Fujii says. “He has a great sense of humor, and my bandmates have so much fun playing his pieces. Sometimes my music gets very serious, so Natsuki makes the music more flexible and I really enjoy that.”
Fujii admits that the couple shares a similar dynamic in life to the one they explore on the bandstand. “I’m kind of a workaholic, so I need someone around me who can help me relax,” says the ultra-prolific composer in something of an understatement. Then, goading the husband who’s sitting next to her, she continues: “And I make him work. Trumpet players are lazy.”
The title Yamiyo Ni Karasu translates literally as “the crow in the dark night,” and makes up half of a Japanese proverb that continues, “Yuki Ni Shirasagi,” meaning “the egret in snow.” The phrase indicates something that is present but invisible or unseen, an apt metaphor for the subtle nuances of the quartet’s vivid music. “It’s an expressive way to say that you don’t notice or you cannot recognize something that’s always there,” Fujii explains.
The formation of Tobira marks Fujii’s return to leading a quartet after her renowned former group, Ma-Do, came to a tragic end following the death of bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. “I just couldn’t imagine having the same band continuing without him,” Fujii says, “so I stopped playing with them. But I really wanted to have a quartet that could play my compositions.”
“Ma-Do” translated to English as “window,” so Fujii chose “Tobira,” meaning “door,” as the name for this new endeavor, both honoring the earlier band and declaring its difference. “I like the name because with a door, we can go out and go in and it’s always open to other worlds,” Fujii says. The seven new compositions on Yamiyo Ni Karasu exemplify that philosophy, migrating seamlessly between striking composed passages and searching, boundary-stretching improvisations. In its short time together the group has developed a near-telepathic sense of communication.
Bassist Todd Nicholson became a mainstay of the downtown New York City jazz scene through his work with such greats of the music as Billy Bang, Roy Campbell, Eddie Gale, Frank Lowe, William Parker, James Spaulding, and Steve Swell, among others. Nicholson recently returned to New York City after spending six years in Tokyo, where he became active on the Japanese jazz and improvised music scenes, establishing working relationships with koto player Michiyo Yagi and violinist Keisuke Ohta as well as leading his own group, the Otic Band/Ensemble. Drummer Takashi Itani boasts a jaw-droppingly diverse resume, including work with singer-songwriter Yoshio Hayakawa, rock guitarist Masahide Sakuma, singer-actor Hiroshi Mikami, jazz saxophonist Ted Brown, and Japanese-American pop star Hikaru Utada.
Yamiyo Ni Karasu is one of three new releases scheduled for 2015 from the always-prolific Fujii, whose prodigious output is only rivaled by her remarkable drive to constantly explore new terrain. Also on tap are the third album by the unorthodox two-trumpet collective quartet Kaze; and the debut CD by the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin, the fifth city-specific large ensemble she’s founded, and the first group launched in her newly adopted home.
One of the most original and wide-ranging voices in modern jazz, Satoko Fujii has documented her abilities on more than 70 CDs in less than 20 years. The Tokyo native relocated to the U.S. to study at Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory, where she was mentored by the likes of Paul Bley, Herb Pomeroy, George Russell, and Cecil McBee.
Often collaborating with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, Fujii has recorded with a staggering variety of ensembles, ranging from spontaneous large-form improvisations to intricate, complex compositions. Between 1997 and 2008, her New York trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black released seven critically acclaimed CDs, while at the same time she explored her duo project with Tamura. She has also led the quartets Ma-Do and Tobira and an avant-rock group featuring Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. In recent years she’s formed fruitful collaborations with such inventive artists as pianist Myra Melford, drummer John Hollenbeck, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, and guitarist Elliott Sharp.
This presentation of Satoko Fujii and Tobira is made possible by volunteer labor, small financial contributions from thousands of patrons of The Sanctuary for Independent Media and support from the New York State Council on the Arts.
The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts, located in a historic former church at 3361 6th Avenue in Troy, NY. The Sanctuary hosts screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds.