Satoko Fujii performing in San Diego in 2008 (photograph by Andy Newcombe, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)
I have become increasingly impressed with how jazz pianist Satoko Fujii manages to keep me both busy and delighted when it comes to listening to the recordings she releases. My most recent article about her was written at the very end of this past December. This was when I had a chance to listen to Fukushima, her latest large-scale work for which she assembled her Orchestra of New York ensemble. Less than a month later, her own Libra label released Satoko Fujii Solo, swinging the pendulum to the opposite extreme. Amazon.com continues to be “blissfully ignorant” (as I previously put it) of her Libra releases; but it is easy enough to purchase this new album through the CD Store Web page on Libra’s Web site.
This latest album seems to be a benchmark for the pace of releases planned for the coming year. Fujii was born on October 9, 1958, meaning that this is the year in which she will turn 60. That birthday is a significant occasion in many Asian cultures, called “Kanreki” in Japanese and “Hwangap” in Korean. The significance of the number is that the lunar calendar is structured according to a 60-year cycle.
When the average life expectancy was less than 60, Kanreki marked a celebration of longevity. These days it is treated as a major occasion for retrospection. In Fujii’s case that will involve looking back over a career that has endured for more than 30 years. At the same time, she plans to maintain her activity by producing one new album for every month of the Western calendar. In other words Satoko Fujii Solo is the first of a planned series of twelve new recordings.
Honestly (and sadly) I am not familiar enough with the full extent of Fujii’s career to appreciate the extent to which this solo album is retrospective, prospective, or simply a “snapshot of the immediate present.” On the other hand I have had a long-standing interest in solo piano jazz and have been fortunate enough to be at several such concert performances. Furthermore, in my record collecting I have often gone after solo piano recordings from a variety of different sources, reaching at least as far back as Willie “The Lion” Smith, advancing through the solo sessions of Thelonious Monk, and including the solo piano album that Charles Mingus recorded for Impulse! Records.
I suspect what all of these solo gigs have in common is that the soloist is free to take her/his music in any direction (s)he wishes, without worrying about how (or if) anyone else (even a rhythm section) might choose to follow. The result is the musical equivalent of a dramatic soliloquy without being tied down to an explicit narrative. In Fujii’s case this can involve seeking out ways to elicit new sonorities from the piano; and, in at least one case, her work seemed to involve the use of electronics, even if just to establish a context including a pure sine wave of a fixed frequency to induce sympathetic vibrations of undamped strings. There are also moments in which she seems to be reflecting on her past listening experiences, using her memories to set her explorations off in a new direction.
It might thus be fair to call Satoko Fujii Solo an album of self-discovery; but my guess is that it will be just as much an album of discovery for anyone serious about listening to jazz.