Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace

Photo: Bryan Murray

Japanese composer Satoko Fujii takes another crack at the big band route in the way only she can.

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo


Label: Libra
US Release Date: 2017-01-27
UK Release Date: Import
Label website
Artist website

Even since I started reviewing music, I've been doing my best to keep up with the progress of Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura, Japan's fearless wife-and-husband team in avant-garde jazz. It isn't unusual for them to release a minimum of two albums each year, all of which are recorded under a variety of musical contexts and ensemble names. Naturally, I've lost track of their output.

Bob Rusch of Cadence has anointed Fujii as "[T]he Ellington of free jazz." The pianist/composer and her trumpeter husband know that you don't earn a reputation like that by sitting around at home and waiting for success to knock on your door. They've kept busy, and Fujii's Orchestra Tokyo album Peace is just another link in a very long, very strong, and very unusual chain of works.

In case you need a refresher, Satoko Fujii has assembled, composed for, and conducts for various orchestras around the world. She has one in Berlin, one in New York, the Tokyo one in question, and perhaps some more that I'm not even aware of. In addition to the 15-member orchestra, Peace features two musicians from Fujii's KAZE ensemble, drummer Peter Orins and trumpeter Christian Provost. Neither side seems to drag down nor enhance the other. All of the music and the musicians performing it are all subjected to Fujii's baton and composition pen. Both are mighty. Although Fujii doesn't play on this release, she still considers the orchestra to be her main instrument, nonetheless.

The opening composition "2014" is dedicated to guitarist Kelly Churko. At 32 minutes and 45 seconds, it takes up more than half the album's running time. According to Satoko Fujii, a crazy number dominating an album named Peace was meant to capture Churko's paradoxical personality. While the Canadian musician was a peaceful soul, he also had a taste for heavy metal. Things don't really turn "metal", but this is one heavy half-hour driven by naked horn breathing and enormous building blocks of atonal chords. The ten-minute title track enjoys a unique DNA of ramshackle percussion and a five-person saxophone section that wails its way into a form of texture.

If it's peace that you're looking for, you can find it in the 11-minute ode to a cat, "Jasper", which has been recorded by Fujii and Tamura before. There's something almost ambient and/or cinematic about the track -- until the higher wind instruments transform it into the oddest dirge you may ever hear on a big band album. The rhythm behind the final track "Beguine Nummer Eins" is the closest that Peace ever comes to having a groove. While the three prior tracks sprawl and explore, this one locks into a toe-tapping pattern, eventually giving way to cacophony within only (!) six minutes.

At this point in Satoko Fujii's career, she's not making sub-par musical choices. All of her albums come in varying degrees of Very Good or Excellent. Peace is another magnificent slab of noisy texture designed to tease the senses. In this sub-genre of music, melody alone is the easy way out. A Fujii Orchestra is for those who want their fabric so thick that it nearly suffocates them. You guys know who you are.





12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.


Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.


Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.


Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.


'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.


Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.


Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.


Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.


Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.


Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.


Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.


Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.