My efforts to catch up on recordings from last year have now brought me to the final two releases by Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii in 2019. The November release was her latest duo album with Joe Fonda on Long Song Records, following up on the release of Mizu (water), which was the May installment in Fujii’s month-by-month Kanreki cycle of recordings marking her 60th birthday. While Fonda played bass on Mizu, on their new album, Four, he alternates between bass and flute; and on the last two tracks they are joined by Fujii’s husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. As so often seems to be the case, one cannot count on Amazon.com for timely releases of Fujii’s recordings; but Bandcamp has prepared a Web page for processing orders for both the CD and digital downloads.
The December album is also a duo performance. This is the second recording of Toh-Kichi, the name of the duo that has Fujii performing with drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. The title of the album is Baikamo, and Amazon.com has a Web page for the CD release.
The first five of the seven tracks on Four present duo improvisations that can easily be taken as intimate conversations. Since the two of them have been performing together since 2015, those conversations unfold easily and, for the most part, briefly, even when it is not particularly clear what the topic is. However, things change when Tamura joins in for the last two tracks. “Stars in Complete Darkness” is practically epic in scale, lasting for a little over 22 minutes. This is followed by “We Meet as 3,” which is a little more than half as long but is still extensive when compared with the first seven tracks. The extended duration probably has to do with each of the individual players having more to contribute to the overall exchange; and “We Meet as 3” comes across as a reflection on how much had unfolded in “Stars in Complete Darkness.”
courtesy of Braithwaite & Katz Communications
Baikamo is another matter. Half of the sixteen tracks are based on free improvisations, each given an enigmatic (and polysyllabic) title by Yoshida. The remaining eight tracks are composed with each performer composing four of them. Most of the tracks, both improvised and composed, are brief. Given some of the titles, one might call them tone poems conceived on the scale of a haiku; but the prevailing rhetoric is far more aggressive than one is likely to encounter in a haiku. Among the longer tracks, neither the improvisations nor the compositions last for as much as six minutes. The image on the album cover (shown above) suggests that, taken as a whole, the album is a musical reflection on the current environment crisis. (The title of the last track is “Ice Age.”) However, those reflections may emerge more in the mind of the listener than in the inventiveness of the performers.