With Jet Black, Pianist and Composer Satoko Fujii’s Tokyo Trio Takes Its Place Among the Great Piano Trios of Our Time. Trio’s new recording to be released January 26, 2024 via Libra Records.
“Satoko Fujii’s Tokyo Trio isn’t even close to being a conventional jazz trio . . . But it is a Satoko Fujii ensemble in every sense, with the grace, sophistication, surprise and ingenuity found in every other of her ensembles. Only this time in a small, nimble, and deceptively familiar construction.” — Victor Aaron, Something Else!
“a beautifully present trio that speaks to us now and no doubt will stand the test of time . . .” — Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Music Review
With Jet Black , pianist and composer Satoko Fujii’s Tokyo Trio catapults to the forefront of piano trios in contemporary improvisation. Propelled by Fujii’s unique compositions, the improvisational prowess of bassist Takashi Sugawa and drummer Ittetsu Takemura, and an ever-deepening group rapport, Tokyo Trio’s sophomore outing is among the most exciting small ensemble releases in Fujii’s long career.
“It felt good to play with this trio from the very beginning,” Fujii says. “The first time was in 2019, but after only three concerts, the pandemic prevented us from working.” Their third outing, recorded by Tokyo’s renowned Pit Inn jazz club, was released in 2021 as Moon on the Lake. “Even after the pandemic restrictions ended, it was also difficult to get the trio together because Takashi and Ittetsu are probably the busiest musicians in Japan now,” Fujii continues. “They both play straight-ahead jazz as well, so it is difficult to schedule performances. Finally, we were able to do
a European tour in 2022.”
During the tour, Takashi and Ittetsu grew more familiar with Fujii’s idiosyncratic compositions and the music became more relaxed and interactive as a result. Fujii’s writing has an innate lyricism that often belies its underlying complexity. “I use complex rhythms often in my compositions, which may be a little different from more traditional classic jazz music,” Fujii says. “I can play them because my compositions are my ideas, but I need players who are open to what I write.”
“It is very important that my bandmates feel free and open, not just with this trio. I always tell my bandmates to play whatever they want. I am not like a classical composer who expects a certain outcome. For me, to experience where we go with my composition is a very important and exciting thing. To tell the truth, I started writing less and less with this group because I now know their ability to improvise is top level.”
The dynamic tension between the trio’s “top-level” improvising and Fujii’s demanding compositions fuels the exhilarating music on Jet Black. For instance, in the opening “Along the Way,” a romping odd-metered melody is continually interrupted by digressions into widely contrasting areas ranging from an unaccompanied abstract arco bass solo to free energy trio eruptions. The trio navigates the many changes with confidence and a sense of fun.“Gentle Slope” is more conventional with the band playing the theme together and then engaging in very free and unforced collective interaction. “Sky Reflection” is a seamless blend of improvising and composing, a collective rumination exploring colour and texture that effortlessly drifts along in a sound painting of subtle contrasts. It culminates with ravishing arco bass soaring over Fujii’s ecstatic piano, a highlight of the album. The trio breathes life and fire into the framework set up by Fujii’s pieces and takes them in unexpected and delightful directions. As individually accomplished as each musician is, the artists merge into a unit and speak with a collective voice that is among the most distinctive and engaging in improvised music today.
photo by Kazue Yokoi
“I am surprised with how open Takashi and Ittetsu are playing different music,” Fujii says. “Twenty or thirty years ago, musicians who played classic jazz and those who played creative music were in different universes. But Takashi and Ittetsu play both kinds of music without prejudice. One of the reasons that I love music is it can transcend nationality, gender, generation, religion, etc., and get to deeper feelings and ideas.”
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photo by Kazue Yokoi
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 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 performed and recorded prolifically. In 2022, she released her 100th album as a leader. On the way to this impressive milestone, she 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 six albums since their debut in 2011. Fujii has established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles. Fully a quarter of her albums have been with jazz orchestras, prompting Cadence magazine to call her “the Ellington of free jazz.