One of the more interesting proponents of free jazz improvisation to have visited San Francisco is the Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. I first encountered her at the Center for New Music (C4NM) in February of last year when she led a program entitled Existence: Quartet Music for Improvisers. This was one of those sessions that could be taken as jazz being chamber music by other means or chamber music being jazz by other means. As was announced at the end of last month, Fujii will be returning to C4NM this coming Tuesday.
In Japan she formed a French-Japanese quartet called Kaze (the Japanese word for wind), in which she and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura performed with another trumpeter, Christian Pruvost, and drummer Peter Orins. Last year this group expanded to a sextet with the addition of a second pianist, Sophie Agnel, and a second drummer, Didier Lasserre. This led to a group that could be viewed as three pairs, one each for piano, trumpet, and drums, or two piano-trumpet-drum trios. Orins mashed together the adjectives “triple” and “double” and came up with the noun “trouble;” so the expanded group decided to call itself Trouble Kaze.
This past Friday the group released its first album, entitled June. Currently this is available from Amazon.com only as an MP3 download; but Circum-Disc seems to have released a physical CD version in Europe or Asia (or both). The recording was made at a concert performance that took place in Lille (in France) in celebration of the summer solstice. The name of the album comes from the date of this performance, June 20, 2016.
The program for that concert was a single five-movement suite with relatively smooth transitions from one movement to the next. As free improvisations go, this is a rather adventurous undertaking. From the very beginning, the listener is prepared for a dynamic range whose extremes of the soft are likely to be complemented by extremes of the loud. At the same time, the subtle gestures of the introduction make clear that this is an approach to free jazz that contrasts sharply with the boldly assertive pioneering efforts of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.
Nevertheless, because of the name of the group, I have to wonder whether or not there would have been significant advantage to attending the performance. If the group’s name came from the interplay of treating the entire group as either three duos or two trios, then I would suspect that “visual input” that clarifies who is playing with whom would be critical to the listening experience. Were that the case, then a video document of this concert would likely be far more informative than the capture only of the audio.
Still, the attentive listener can still be aware of how these combinations change over the five movements of June. Most likely, awareness of changing combinations is more relevant to the listening experience than knowledge of exactly which combinations are “in play” at any given moment. Mind you, even the most aware ear will probably need to adjust to the rhetorical devices of the performers as a prerequisite to identifying how those groupings change. In no way is this sit-back-and-groove-on-the-sounds music. Considerable cerebration seems to have gone into making this performance, so one should not be surprised that a similar level should be summoned for listening to it. Writing as one who has now listened to this recording several times, I would say that such cognitive effort on the part of the listener is likely to be highly rewarding.