Trio San, featuring pianist-composer Satoko Fujii, mallet virtuoso Taiko Saito, and master drummer Yuko Oshima showcase their immediate and profound group chemistry on their debut album Hibiki out November 10, 2023 via Jazzdor Records. Recorded near the end of a European tour, Hibiki finds them immersed deeply in their own private musical world, a world full of delicate beauty, thunderous energy, and sudden surprises.
“Fujii’s music can’t get much closer to improvisational music perfection…” – Victor Aaron, Something Else!
“Oshima’s rigorously developing rudiments, as well as wild crescendos and diminuendos, seem to tell a stor ywith every stroke.” – Tampere Jazz Happening
“Saito celebrates mystery, clarity of vision, and rejection of blueprints and “best-laid plans” in favor of discovery and surprise combined with a wide-ranging sense of wonder.” – Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
The group chemistry is immediate and profound on Hibiki (Jazzdor), the debut CD by Trio San, featuring pianist/composer Satoko Fujii, vibraphonist/composer Taiko Saito, and drummer/composer Yuko Oshima. The three had never worked together as a trio, but quickly found that they inspired one another to discover new sounds and musical forms. Hibiki, recorded near the end of a short European tour, finds them immersed deeply in their own private musical world, a world full of delicate beauty, thunderous energy, and sudden surprises.
Since 2019, Fujii and Saito have worked together in a duo called Futari (which means “two people” in Japanese). They released two CDs, Beyond, recorded in 2019 just after a duo tour in Japan, and Underground, recorded remotely during the pandemic. Saito had also worked separately with Oshima in a duo and it was her idea to bring everyone together in a trio. Fujii had first met Oshima in 2009 in Strasbourg while touring with Larry Ochs. They instantly became friends, but never had the opportunity to play together until the formation of the trio in 2022, so she welcomed the idea. They dubbed their new group “San,” which means “three” in Japanese. “We tried to set up a tour in Europe during the pandemic, but of course we had to give up,” Fujii says. “We finally could make our first tour in 2022, and this recording is from the third of the four concerts.”
“This is a collective trio,” Fujii continues. “We all wrote music and sent our compositions to each other at least a few weeks before the show. We talked about them beforehand, but we couldn’t rehearse until right before our very first concert in Padova. I think we found the way to make music together right away when we were in front of the audience. We talked a lot before the performance, but I have found making sounds means much more than talking about them.”
The album’s title track, written by Oshima, is an excellent example of how the trio can shape sound, color, and melody together into a collective performance. It’s a mosaic of musical phrases that they each take turns extending and developing into a continuous line. All of them use extended techniques to create unique and unusual sounds from their instruments, so color and texture are also constantly shifting. The subtle, slowly drifting statement eventually erupts in a final burst of energy, an unexpected development that they make organic to the piece.
Fujii contributes three compositions to the band’s young repertoire. “Soba” opens with the composer and Saito playing long, intertwined lines in an odd-metered swirl. But the piece is full of contrasts and non sequiturs and it opens up into a starkly different landscape of widely spaced notes and spare motifs. Free-flowing trio passages are interrupted once by a piano solo and again for Oshima’s wonderfully developed drum solo before the opening theme returns. “Yozakura” is as ecstatic a piece as Fujii has ever recorded. Shimmering vibraphone and rippling piano blend in a crystalline glow, colored by percussion and notes plucked on the inside of the piano. Fujii solos with lyrical, rhapsodic clarity, and the entire track is simply rapturous. “What You See” builds a cohesive group performance out of Oshima’s precise drumming, the unusual timbres of Fujii’s treated piano, and the varied colors of Saito’s atmospheric vibraphone.
Two concluding tracks are both Saito’s. “Wa” is underpinned by a vibraphone trill that slowly grows in intensity as Fujii, once again in excelsis, ratchets up the tension and Oshima, fully attuned to the arc of the piece, rumbles and splashes punctuating phrases. The rising tensions explode into life on “Ichigo,” a boisterous, up-tempo ruckus of a tune that turns into a sound collage of rapidly exchanged sounds and notes that finally converge in a free energy collective improvisation. The reprise of the raucous theme comes to an abrupt end and the audience erupts into enthusiastic applause.
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© Cristina Marx
Pianist and composer Satoko Fujii, “an improviser of rumbling intensity and generous restraint” (Giovanni Russonello, New York Times), is one of the most original voices in jazz today. For more than 25 years, she has created a unique, personal music that spans many genres, blending jazz, contemporary classical, rock, and traditional Japanese music into an innovative synthesis instantly recognizable as hers alone. A prolific composer for ensembles of all sizes and a performer who has appeared around the world, she was the recipient of a 2020 Instant Award in Improvised Music, in recognition of her “artistic intelligence, independence, and integrity.”
Since she burst onto the scene in 1996, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music. Highlights include a piano trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black (1997-2009), and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins (2001-2008). In addition to a wide variety of small groups of different instrumentation, Fujii also performs in a duo with trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with whom she’s recorded eight albums since 1997. She and Tamura are also one half of the international free-jazz quartet Kaze, which has released seven albums since their debut in 2011. Fujii has established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, prompting Cadence magazine to call her “the Ellington of free jazz.”
Award-winning mallet player-composer Taiko Saito was born in Sapporo but currently lives in Berlin. She studied with marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe and studied classical marimba and percussion at the Toho School of Music. In 1997 she began to improvise and to write music, and moved to Berlin, where she studied vibraphone and composition with David Friedman at the Universität der Künste Berlin. In 2003 she founded the marimba/vibraphone-piano duo with German jazz piano player Niko Meinhold. Their album Koko was released in 2005 and Live in Bogotá was released in 2014. Reed player Tobias Schirmer joins them to make the Trio KOKOTOB. Together with Rupert Stamm, she also created the jazz mallets duo Patema who’s recording was released by Zerozero in 2007. She is a founding member of the Berlin Mallet Group, which also includes her former teacher Friedman. She also performs with Fujii, Natsuki Tamura, Schirmer, and percussive dancer Mizuki Wildenhahn in Puzzle. Recently she played with Mary Halvorson at Berlin Jazz Festival in 2019, and with Silke Eberhard at the Moers Jazz Festival and Berlin Jazz Festival in 2020.
Japanese drummer and composer Yuko Oshima, based in France since 2000, develops her musical language on drums through improvisation and composition with musicians, dancers, and actors. Since 2015, she has worked with Eric Broitmann in the duo bishinkodo creating music for drum set and electronics. She also appears with Samuel Colard (piano) and Vincent Robert (modular synthesizer) in the improvisation trio Hiyoméki. In addition, she is in a drum duo with Hamid Drake. She performs frequently in Japan, notably in the trio Gakusei Jikken Shitsu with Ryoko Ono (saxophone) and Hiroki Ono (electronics). In 2022, Yuko was in residence at the Villa Kujoyama study center where she deepens her musical knowledge of Nagauta, a Japanese traditional music incorporating song and instrumental music that accompanies kabuki theatre. She is preparing two projects inspired by Nagauta song. In addition, she regularly collaborates with dancers such as Damien Briançon and with the Cie Kublai Khan Investigation. She has acted in or written music for plays by Gerard Watkins, Alexandre Zeff, and Kathleen Fortin.
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Trio SAN Concerts in France
– Tuesday, November 14, 8:30 p.m. at Jassdor Strasbourg’s Festival, Strasbourg, France.
– Wednesday, November 15, 9 p.m. at Periscope, Lyon, France.
– Friday, November 17, 9 p.m. at Pannonica, Nantes, France.
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