By Josef Woodard | Published February 2017
Over the decades, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii has demonstrated an uncanny power and musicality as a considerable force in the avant-garde end of the jazz spectrum. At once an assertive and keenly conversational player, she readily adapts to varied settings, including the fascinating quartet Kaze, with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. With the bold and luminous new album Duet, she beautifully pares down to an intimate but uncharted and wide-ranging improvisational encounter with a fellow free-zoning master, bassist Joe Fonda, whose rich resume includes a long stint playing with maverick jazz icon Anthony Braxton.
Given Fujii and Fonda’s easy rapport and empathetic language, it’s surprising to learn this was their first meeting. Recorded at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, Maine, in November 2015, Duet marks the second date of their inaugural duet tour together, and ranks among the more significant piano-bass recordings of recent vintage.
They get along beautifully, and courageously, from the earliest moments of the extended, suite-like opening track, “Paul Bley” (dedicated to the late pianist-adventurer). Over the course of close to 40 minutes, the pair navigates a shifting terrain of emotionality and musical atmospheres. With the nonintrusive addition of sonically elastic trumpeter Tamura, the album’s 11-minute second track is aptly named “JSN” (the three players/improvisers’ initials). Here, opening introspective piano lines imply that the search is on, building in visceral intensity and sliding into primal trumpet/flute dialogue and prepared piano, fading into some enigmatic realm. This music is commanding, yet infused with a wide-open spirit.
Duet: Paul Bley; JSN. (48:30).
Personnel: Satoko Fujii, piano; Joe Fonda, bass, flute; Natsuki Tamura, trumpet (2).