By Ivana Ng | Published March 2021
A prolific composer, improviser and bandleader, pianist Satoko Fujii has spent the past three decades blurring the lines of free-jazz, contemporary classical, Japanese folk and experimental music. The expanses of her artistic vision and boundless music are unparalleled. But on Mantle, she finds worthy partners in trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and drummer Ramon Lopez. As a trio, they work across the spectrum of avant-garde jazz, moving adeptly from modern improvisation to bebop to rock and back.
Fujii and Tamura, who have been collaborators on countless projects since the early ’90s, have a fluid, almost instinctual discourse, her romantic melodic lines balancing out his blustery horn on “Nine Steps To The Ground.” Tamura brings in more familiar bebop phrases on “Metaphors,” but gradually moves into extended technique for both “Encounter” and “Straw Coat.” Lopez anchors the frenzied discourse with understated percussion, while matching Fujii’s languorous notes with measured pacing and melancholy for “Your Shadow.” In contrast, the drummer is uninhibited and expansive on “Came, Left” and “Autumn Sky,” moving among gentle rolls, marching rhythms and energetic sheets of sound.
There’s a narrative feel to each song on Mantle, with distinct chapters of free-improvisation, melody and rock-influenced interludes. The trio also uses silence effectively to build tension as it interrogates the boundaries between the experimental and the accessible.
Though the group hasn’t worked together long, its debut recording showcases a dynamic partnership that charts new territory in creative music.
Mantle: Nine Steps To The Ground; Metaphors; From Spring To Summer; Your Shadow; Encounter; Straw Coat; Came, Left; Autumn Sky; The Temple Bell. (60:07)
Personnel: Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Satoko Fujii, piano; Ramon Lopez, drums.