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Satoko Fujii Continues to Push Boundaries in Avant-Garde Jazz with ‘Aspiration’

Satoko Fujii continues to push the boundaries of who she is and where she belongs in the world of avant-garde jazz. Having Wadada Leo Smith and Ikue Mori along just makes it stranger.

Satoko Fujii / Wadada Leo Smith / Natsuki Tamura / Ikue Mori
8 Sep 2017

If you think that two trumpets, a piano, and electronics are a highly unorthodox blueprint for a contemporary jazz quartet, then you probably haven’t been following the careers of Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura. She plays piano, he plays trumpet, and this married couple have gone on to create some of the most out-there music that the genre can provide. For Aspiration they have teamed up with the peerless Wadada Leo Smith and the equally fearless Ikue Mori to produce a sound that is so sparse and strange that it manages to stand out amid Fujii and Tamura’s ever-staggering catalog of challenging releases — and that is certainly saying something. Aspiration is a tough listening, no matter who you are.

Six songs are packed into an hour and three minutes for this release, but they all feel like the similarly toned limbs of some ungodly monster out to obliterate all traces of jazz forms and clichés. Wadada Leo Smith and Natsuki Tamura don’t use their trumpets to make music with notes so much as they use their trumpets to make noise with their breath. Discord prevails over their harmonies. Ikue Mori’s laptop gurgles are more of a whole new lead instrument than a backdrop. Fujii, as usual, is never content to just sit at her piano and press down the keys. She plucks, e-bows, and creates a barrage of notes with any resource she can stick under the piano’s lid. And to think, she’s “composes” all of this! “When I started composing for the project with Wadada [Leo Smith], I heard Ikue’s sound in my ears,” says Fujii in Aspiration‘s press release.

But this same press release also admits that the four musicians “gathered without preconceived notions about what much happen as they play”. To be fair, this notion doesn’t necessarily fly in the face of the fact that music like this can be composed. It just means that, after more than 20 years in the business of composing, arranging, and performing music, an artist like Satoko Fujii has learned how to straddle certain lines and still get the most out of the material and her performers. How she does this would probably remain a mystery to us, even if she explained it carefully. What matters are the results, and Aspiration sounds like this mutant jazz monster has taken on a life of its own.

RATING 7 / 10