Having been about a month late in keeping up with the monthly album releases by Japanese jazz pianist Satoko Fujii in celebration of her forthcoming 60th birthday, I now feel a bit more caught up with things, since her July release came out this past Friday. The new album amounts to a follow-up of both an older album and the May release in her birthday series. Its title is Mizu, which is Japanese for “water;” and it consists of three pieces that Fujii co-composed and performed with bassist Joe Fonda.
Readers may recall that Fonda was the bass player on Triad, which was Fujii’s May release; and those with longer memories probably know that this is her second duo album with Fonda, the first, called simply Duet, having been released in October of 2016. Curiously, Duet has its own Amazon.com Web page; but, like all of the “birthday” releases, Mizu is not so fortunate. It was released on Long Song Records and is most easily purchased through the CD Store Web page on the Web site for Libra Records, which has provided the platform for most of her recording projects.
There are only three tracks on Mizu. The title track is the last of them, lasting about twenty-one minutes. It is complemented by the opening track, “Rik Bevernage,” which lasts almost half an hour and is dedicated to the late Belgian concert producer. Between these two compositions is “Long Journey,” which, ironically is only about seven minutes long. The first two tracks were recorded at a club in Belgium, while the last track was recorded at MunichUnderGround, which circulates most of its content through podcasts.
As is frequently the case with Fujii’s work, it is not always easy to establish how much of the music is based on notation and how much arises through inventive performance and improvisation. Each of the three pieces definitely conveys the sense of a rich dialogue between the two performers, a dialogue that, from time to time, is punctuated by vocal declamations by Fonda. Nevertheless, each dialogue seems to establish its own sense of flow that provides a framework for the passing of time. Rather like the flow of the Vltava (Moldau) river, depicted by Bedřich Smetana’s tone poem of the same name, the flow of the Fujii-Fonda dialogue leads through a variety of well-defined venues, allowing the listener to appreciate how it covers different “topics of conversation.”
From that point of view, what is most interesting about these tracks is the rich diversity of those “topics.” These are dialogues in which the conversing parties have much to discuss. We, as “outside listeners,” may not always be adequately informed about those topics. Nevertheless, we can still appreciate the passions that arise as they are proposed, considered, and, sometimes, argued vigorously. Those committed to “going with the flow” of that conversation will find that there is no need to worry about how much of it was formally composed and how much is spontaneous.
There is, however, one element of ambiguity that probably deserves attention. On the Triad album Fonda played flute, as well as bass; and there were occasions when even an experienced listener would have difficulty distinguished sounds from the flute and those of Gianni Mimmo’s soprano saxophone. On Mizu Fonda is listed as playing only bass; but, every now and then, there is a mournful passage played with harmonic fingering that could easily be mistaken for the sound of a flute! Fonda clearly likes to keep us guessing; and I, for one, find the game an enjoyable one.