Satoko Fujii Conjures an All-Star Cast, Presenting ‘100 Dreams’


The premiere of “100 Dreams” featured a host of stars across the new music scene.

(Photo: Eva Kapanadze)

Performing at Manhattan’s DiMenna Center for Classical Music, a spacious wood-paneled hall in the city’s Midtown West neighborhood, Japan-based pianist-composer Satoko Fujii led an ensemble of heavyweight, first-call talent in an exhilarating single work, “One Hundred Dreams,” recorded for what will become her 100th release, Hyaku.

Fujii’s hour-long composition was marked by careening shifts in mood, tone, colors and soloist expression — at times a maelstrom of exploding dynamics and swirling action, at others, a sea of tranquility reflected in hushed moments and meditation.

Performed by a cast including trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Natsuki Tamura, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, laptop innovator Ikue Mori, acoustic bassist Brandon Lopez, and drummers Tom Rainey and Chris Corsano, “One Hundred Dreams” moved in tight ensemble sections split by unaccompanied solo terrain, each musician giving full breadth to the work. Fujii most often conducted, the players breaking off into solo sections seemingly at will, each energized by the pint-sized composer’s electrifying composition and clever use of space.

Highlights abounded, from Chris Corsano’s buzzsaw gyrations and Ikue Mori’s buzzing globe of errant sounds to Wadada Leo Smith’s hall-filling pronouncements, all gratefully documented by Grammy-winning recording engineer Joseph Branciforte. The results were scheduled for a December album release on Fujii’s Libra Records and made possible through a grant from the Robert D. Bielicki Foundation.

A prolific composer and performer, Fujii marked her 50th birthday in 2008 by releasing a half dozen recordings. A decade later she celebrated her 60th year by releasing a new album every month. She drew on a different, darker sustenance for Hyaku.

“The music that we played last night, I composed during the pandemic,” Fujii said outside her Manhattan hotel the following morning. “The pandemic was a big emotional shock for me. I didn’t expect that to happen. Some people expected something like that would happen, but not me. I didn’t think anything like that would ever happen.

“Sometimes I had depression,” she continued. “But at the same time, I took it in good way. I was so busy before the pandemic. I’d been touring every month. I never had time to stay home. So, I was very happy to be at my place, at home in Kobe.”

How did “One Hundred Dreams” reflect her pandemic experience?

“Well, I wrote music before the pandemic,” Fujii said. “After Fushima [the Fushima nuclear disaster in 2011], I wrote music. When Fushima happened, I was in Tokyo, and we were so scared. That was a real nightmare. Of course, emotionally, I get something and it comes into my music. That actually affects me to write something.”

At DiMenna Center, “One Hundred Dreams” began as a maelstrom, a cacophony, soon detouring into unaccompanied solos from each musician. Smith’s bracing, lonely trumpet ruminations cut through the hall like swords of light. Rainey’s drumming, animated and dramatic, was contrasted by the smaller, intense motions of Corsano. Mori cast her web in noise and exotic sounds, while bassoonist Schoenbeck seemed to reframe the music’s passion and force with consolation and warmth.

“Even during the pandemic, when I had depression, I still had hope,” Fujii said. “After the pandemic, we would have a better world, I thought. So that was kind of hope. But, of course, I had many different feelings.”

Recipient of a 2020 Instant Award in Improvised Music in recognition of her “artistic intelligence, independence and integrity,” Fujii has, over the course of 26 years, released music with a stunning range of collaborators. Among them, seven albums with the trio of bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black; five albums by Fujii’s avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins; eight solo recordings; and, eight duets with her husband and creative partner, Natsuki Tamura. Fully one-fifth of Fujii’s recorded output — more than 20 albums — feature her compositions for large ensemble.

Upcoming Fujii recordings include a solo concert recorded in Matsuyama, Japan, and a duo work with multi-instrumentalist Otomo Yoshihide.

While Fujii’s ensembles have consistently produced work of unswerving brilliance, she has also achieved stunning results with pick-up bands. Fujii’s 100th release features one of the finest New York pick-up bands ever assembled, in an inspired performance for the ages. DB

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