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Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York | South Wind

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Avant Garde: Modern Composition Avant Garde: Experimental Moods: Type: Experimental
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South Wind

by Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York

An experimental new jazz big band, lead by Japanese femael pianist, Satoko Fujii, with New York downtown all stars.
Genre: Avant Garde: Modern Composition
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Jet Lag
10:33 album only
2. No More
9:03 album only
3. Indication
10:37 album only
4. Silence
6:32 album only
5. This Is About You
4:14 album only
6. Freeze
5:52 album only
7. I Don't Know
8:42 album only
8. South Wind
10:58 album only


Album Notes


“Fujii is clearly one of the most exciting musicians to come along in a while.” — Robert Iannapollo, Cadence

"Unpredictable, wildly creative, and uncompromising…Fujii is an absolutely essential listen for anyone interested in the future of jazz." — Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

“100 Years…100 Alumni” — Profiling New England Conservatory’s Most Successful Alumni

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer SATOKO FUJII as one of the most original voices in jazz. A truly global artist, she splits her time between New York City and Japan and tours internationally leading several different ensembles. Just as her career spans international borders, her music spans many genres, blending jazz, contemporary classical music, and traditional Japanese folk music into an innovative synthesis instantly recognizable as hers alone. “I would like to try many things with my compositions,” she told Don Williamson in a jazzreview.com interview. “I believe anything can be music … sound colors are as important to me as the melody.” Fujii’s compositions are full of surprises with sudden shifts in direction and mood that challenge player and listener alike. Yet the extremes are always part of a larger conceptual whole - never mere exercises in contrast - and the emotional demands are as great as the technical ones. Pulling many disparate threads together, she uses melodies that are as simple and straightforward as folk song, the sophisticated harmonic language of great jazz, and the extended forms of symphonic composers. As an improviser Fujii is equally wide-ranging and virtuosic. In her solos, explosive free jazz energy mingles with delicate melodicism to create a broad palette of timbre and textures. Her phrasing is clean and clear and delivered with a bright, nuanced touch that’s equally indebted to her classical training and her jazz experience. She has showcased her astonishing range and ability on 40 CDs as leader or co-leader since 1996.

Born on October 9, 1958 in Tokyo, Japan, Fujii began playing piano at age four and received classical training until age twenty. Realizing that the improvisation that had come so easily to her as a child was now very difficult, she decided to stop playing piano and began a band in which the members would sing and clap their hands to explore the origins of music. One year later, she changed her focus to jazz improvisation, returning to the piano. She was inspired by her teacher, Koji Taku, a classical pianist and composer who at 60 quit his job as chairman of the piano department at Tokyo College of Art and Music to play jazz. Fujii began private studies with another of her inspirations, the Japanese jazz pianist Fumio Itabashi, who performed with Elvin Jones and Ray Anderson. In order to pursue her own interest in jazz, Fujii left home because her parents wanted her to continue her classical studies at college. Once on her own, she struggled with the expense of renting a piano room and supporting herself.

Fujii first came to the United States in 1985 on a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where her teachers included Herb Pomeroy and Bill Pierce. After graduating in 1987 magna cum laude with a Diploma of Professional Music, she returned to Japan where her experiences included everything from performing at leading jazz clubs in Tokyo and Yokohama and teaching at the Yamaha Popular Music School to a seven-year stint playing keyboards for television and recording music for the JI software company. Among the Japanese groups she worked with are Tobifudo, and Teruaki Todo. She also worked with the AACM’s Joseph Jarman & Douglas Ewart Ensemble. Fujii is featured on a 1990 release with Tobifudo.

In 1993 she returned to Boston on a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, where her teachers included jazz greats George Russell, Cecil McBee and Paul Bley. After receiving her Graduate Diploma in Jazz Performance in 1996, Fujii's career really took off. Her NEC professor, free jazz innovator Paul Bley, was featured on her debut CD Something About Water (Libra; 1996), a recording of improvised piano duets that "Combines two piano voices in subtle, quiet interplay. The music has a crystalline spareness about it, the two players so intertwined it sounds almost like one voice. There is a floating lyricism to the music...like a delicate dance...sheer beauty.” — Michael Rosenstein in Cadence. Her 1997 solo album Indication (Libra) was praised as a “brilliant collection of solo piano pieces," by Michael J. Williams of American Reporter

Also in 1997 Fujii and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, released the duo CD How Many? (Leo Lab). She and Tamura had met in 1984 when Fujii was the house pianist in a cabaret big band in Tokyo. They recognized each other as kindred spirits. “Our means of expression are very different,” she said in a jazzreview.com interview, ”but our musical values are the same. Natsuki and I both think we can derive inspiration from anything when we want to make music. For example, I play inside the piano as well as on the keyboard. Texture, color, timbre, pulse, rhythm, and harmony are equally picked up as elements forming the whole.” Chris Kelsey of Cadence magazine wrote of their duet, "Together Tamura and Fujii construct perfect little structures; their collaboration is balanced, astute, and very musical. A lovely album."

In 1998, Fujii released albums by two of her most significant ongoing projects—a classic piano trio (Satoko Fujii Trio) featuring New York stalwarts bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, and her New York big band (Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York), which she founded in 1997. “Playing in a big band and playing in a piano trio are very different experiences. I don’t want to put myself in a fixed position. That causes me to create a lot of formats.” Her piano trio recording Looking Out of the Window (Nippon Crown) earned wide acclaim and was chosen as a Top 10 CD of the Year by both Coda and Jazziz magazines. The big band’s debut, South Wind (Leo Lab), was equally praised as "an enormously successful orchestral debut... For those of you on the lookout for a state-of-the-art, end-of-the-millennium big band, it has arrived." — Michael Davis, Option. “What makes her special is her developing gift for blending composition and improvisation, as well as a progressive vision that sees no boundaries within tonality and no restrictions within the avant-garde." — Drew Wheeler, Jazz Central Station.
Her 1999 Tzadik release, Kitsune-bi served as a kind of summary of her small group composing and performing up to that point, showcasing her in duo with her long-time associate alto saxophonist Sachi Hayasaka, with her New York trio, and her critically acclaimed solo playing. "Satoko Fujii negotiates the path between Cecil Taylor's hyper-kinetic dissonance and more meditative styles of piano players like Randy Weston and Abdullah Ibrahim... Fujii transforms jazz into something architectural, full of designed shapes that jut and jab at the silence of an enclosed space...an intimate album, full of interior explorations and adventures." — Michael Kramer, New York Times. In addition, Past Life (Libra) featured Fujii’s composing for a sextet of cutting edge Japanese jazz players.

The year 2000 brought the release of two orchestra CDs, JO (Buzz) featuring her NY big band performing her “melodiously left-of-center compositions and those of her husband, Natsuki Tamura, with real verve...the lyrical edge of the players and the leaders' focused production make 'JO' consistently involving." — Billboard. Then the Japanese label East Works released Double Take featuring Satoko's New York big band on one CD and her Japanese big band on another in a fascinating juxtaposition. “I’ve had big bands in New York and Tokyo for more than five years,” Fujii said in her jazzreview.com interview, “and I have learned to appreciate how they are different. For example, my Japanese orchestra players are mostly free jazz players, and my New York orchestra players are mostly Downtown musicians. I think the Japanese free jazz players are strongly influenced by the ’60s free jazz scene in America. They have a lot of energy, and when they play, they like to show that. Many times, their expression is very aggressive, in a good way. New York Downtown musicians have strong influences from many kinds of music, like contemporary music, world music, and jazz. Their expression is very diverse. They also have great energy in a different way.” “’Double Take’ seems like a musical future that's here already." — Stuart Broomer, Coda.

She continued exploring the potential of her explosive New York trio with their second album, Toward, To West (Enja) "Her most substantial and musically rewarding small group outing to date...Besides all of the purposeful soloing, sinuous flow and hard-edged musings, Ms. Fujii injects a potpourri of underlying themes and fluctuating cross-currents into her music...and perhaps the best is yet to come, as we watch her star rapidly ascend above the horizon! Highly recommended. ***** (out of 5)" — Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz.

The trio’s fourth release, Junction (EWE records), was one of three 2001 albums that also saw the restlessly creative Fujii branching out in arresting new directions. April Shower (EWE Records), a duet with violinist Mark Feldman “…marks another first-rate addition to the young pianist’s growing discography…. striking a natural balance between tradition and experimentation, expectation and surprise” — Sam Prestiani, Jazziz. Then in the fall, the radically different Vulcan (Libra Records) appeared, an avant-rock/free jazz fusion album introducing the Satoko Fujii Quartet. (Takeharu Hayakawa, bass/Tatsuya Yoshida, drums/ Natsuki Tamura.) Vulcan received wide, enthusiastic approval. "The sensibility here is aggressive to the point of primitive, with a raw, larger-than-life recorded presence for the drums and bass. The otherworldly vocal wailing that introduces ‘The Sun in a Moonlight Night’ is both a warning and an invitation to the intriguing asymmetrical structures and virtuoso playing on this set." — Bill Bennett, JazzTimes. “Vulcan is choice work, a great showcase for the genius of jazz pianist Satoko Fujii… a masterpiece of jazz expression.”

Fujii's second duo album with Tamura, Clouds (Libra), which earned widespread praise as well as spots on Coda's Top 10 CDs of the Year list, was among four acclaimed CDs released in 2002. Bell the Cat (Tokuma Japan), the fifth release by her New York trio "…is a beautifully played, sumptuously recorded tour-de-force filled with stunningly mature music making… As we approach the year 2003, this very much seems to encompass the shape of jazz to come.” — David Prince, CD Now. It was #5 in Swing Journal's 2002 Japanese Jazz Awards, Best of 2002 in Jazz Weekly, Best Piano Trio CD by Derk Richardson in the San Francisco Gate, and one of Masahiko Yu’s Top 5 CDs of 2002 in CD Journal. Also released in 2002 was Toh-kichi (VICTO), a duo album with Fujii and Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida recorded live at the Victoriaville Festival. "If you relish the prospect of an intense duo dialogue engaged with the sound of surprise, this concert performance is well worth checking out.” — David Lewis, Cadence. Minerva (Libra/Jazzprint) another electrifying album by her quartet was selected as one of the Top 15 CDs of the year by Thomas Schulte, Outsight and hailed as "An awesome recording," by Andy Hamilton in The Wire. In addition to those CDs, 2002 was a busy year for touring, as well. Fujii toured the US with her quartet in April and May, performed with Tatsuya Yoshida at the Victoriaville Festival in May, performed with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo at the Yamaha Hamamatsu Jazz Festival in June, toured Japan with the Satoko Fujii Four (Mark Dresser, Jim Black and Tamura), was composer-in-residence and performer at the Rova Saxophone Quartet's 25th anniversary celebration ‘Rovate 2002’ in San Francisco, and toured Europe with her quartet.

2003 saw a similar range of activity, with the release of The Future of the Past (Enja), another CD with her NY Orchestra which has been called "awe-inspiring." — Ariake Tanabe, musee. Before the Dawn (Polystar) with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo earned similar acclaim: "Each listen reveals new details in these pieces, though the energy and creativity of the playing grabs you from the outset. It's extremely vigorous and forward-thinking music at once. Don't miss out." — Jason Bivins, Cadence. Zephyros (Polystar/Not Two) came out at the end of 2003 and was named a Top 10 CD in the Village Voice and was also selected as one of 2003's Top 5 Jazz CDs by Music Magazine. In addition, Fujii performed with Tamura at the Vancouver Jazz Festival, and toured Europe with the Satoko Fujii Quartet.

2004 began with the release of Erans (Tzadik), another duo CD with drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, and a tour of the US in April that included a solo piano performance at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. She also toured Europe with OrkestraRova to support their CD An Alligator in your Wallet (EWE) on which she is featured, and Fujii received a Japanese Arts Council Grant for her Japanese performance with OrkestraRova and members of her Tokyo orchestra. Her first solo album in eight years, Sketches (Polystar) earned Top 10 status and was deemed a “masterfully crafted album” — New Music Box. Her NY Trio’s Illusion Suite (Libra) “…is filled with thrill and joy of creation." — Hiraku Aoki, Asahi newspaper. 2004 also saw the release of two big band CDs: Nagoyanian (BAKAMO) with the Nagoya Orchestra, and Blueprint (Polystar) with her NY Orchestra: “A fearless blend of postmodern influences that range from contemporary classical music to free jazz... Fujii’s writing liberates soloists…” — Mark Holston, Jazziz. In 2004 Fujii was also featured on CDs by the Itaru Oki Unit: Itaru Oki Unit Live (Polystar); Natsuki Tamura Quartet: Exit (Libra); and Gebhard Ullmann: The Big Band Project (Soul Note).

The spring and summer of 2005 again saw Fujii touring Europe, the US, and Canada. Some highlights included a double duo concert at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam featuring Fujii and Tamura with renowned Dutch musicians pianist Misha Mengelberg and trumpeter Angelo Verploegen, as well as a performance at John Zorn’s club The Stone in April. The incredibly prolific pianist/composer was featured on five critically acclaimed CDs in 2005: In The Tank (Libra) with Tamura, Elliot Sharp and Takayuki Kato; Live in Japan 2004, featuring the Satoko Fujii Four in concert at the Egg Farm in Tokyo; Strange Village, the first release of Tamura’s acoustic quartet Gato Libre, in which Fujii plays the accordion; Angelona, the fourth Fujii Quartet release, and Yamabuki, a trio date featuring accordionist Ted Reichman and vocalist Koh Yamabuki. Live in Japan 2004 was proclaimed by Jim Macnie in The Village Voice to be “…a good example of how instruments can operate outside their prescribed roles… The free-jazz interplay finds the leader/pianist pushing like a drummer, bassist Mark Dresser thumping out subtexted melodies, and percussionist Jim Black coating the action in a silvery scrim. As for trumpeter Natsuki Tamura – call him a sky-writer.” This album was voted onto Top 10 CDs of 2005 lists by Coda, All About Jazz New York, and Swing Journal. Angelona elicited much excitement from critics. Michael Gallant in Keyboard Magazine exclaimed, “This album is f***ing wild. Part free jazz a la Zorn, part experimental rock, Satoko's improvisatory collection is wonderfully chaotic, percussive and dissonant… raw, transcendent, and wonderful,” while Daniel Spicer in Jazzwise stated, “There’s enough energy on this CD to power a small town…”

In 2006 Fujii stunned the music world with the simultaneous release of four big band albums, all on separate labels, with one accompanied by a DVD. Dan Ouellette of Billboard put out the word: “There’s a raft of jazz CDs streeting September 12, but by far the most noteworthy launch is free-spirited Satoko Fujii’s unprecedented delivery of four orchestral CDs: Undulation (on NatSat) with Orchestra New York; Live!! (Libra) with Orchestra Tokyo; Maru (Bakamo) with Orchestra Nagoya; and Kobe Yee!! (Crab Apple) with Orchestra Kobe…” In addition, Marc Chénard in Coda proclaimed: “With the simultaneous release of four albums by four different orchestras under her direction, the Japanese pianist and composer has reinvigorated the big-band concept for the new century – and placed herself at the forefront of the style at the same time.” Each Orchestra offers something different for this indefatigable composer and bandleader, making each disc remarkably distinctive. As an exciting bonus, the Tokyo release, which was recorded live at the Pit Inn in Tokyo, includes a DVD of the performance. Live!! Earned a place on Coda’s Top Tens of 2006 and was among the 2006 Albums of the Year in Jazzwise. François Couture in All Music Guide stated: “Simply put, Live!! is pure candy, a treat in every aspect… fans of her highly personal, lyrical yet high-energy composition style will be in seventh heaven with this very strong release… highly recommended and a 2006 must-have.” Undulation was also placed on Coda’s Top Tens of 2006, and Duncan Heining in Jazzwise opined, “The New York Orchestra is as sharp as a box of switchblades.” Maru received an Honorable Mention in The Village Voice Jazz Consumer Guide from critic Tom Hull and was voted one of “My Best 5 CDs” in Japan’s CD Journal by Masahiko Yuh. Jim Santella described this incredible group aptly in All About Jazz: “Improvising ensembles come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s one that begins with the standard big band instrumentation, adds a powerful rock-inspired twist to each selection, folds folkloric themes from around the world into its book, and then launches a hard-swinging free jazz journey…” Kobe Yee!!, made by the newest of Fujii’s orchestras, also won critical acclaim, making it onto Coda’s Top Tens of 2006 and named Jazz Tokyo 2006 Best CD by Masahiko Yuh. Duncan Heining of Jazzwise called it “Bold music,” while Dan McClenaghan proclaimed in All About Jazz: “In a big band setting, Fujii’s sound can have the feeling of a back alley brawl: contentious reeds squabbling with brash brass sections in front of pugnacious rhythms, interspersed with her succinctly “out there” piano interludes. All of that rumbles out of the speakers on Kobe Yee!! ...Fujii’s a consummate artist; she’s never careful in her offerings; the musicians she chooses aren’t careful; they—and she—lay it all out there, no holds barred.”

In addition, Fujii released three other albums as a leader in 2006 and collaborated with Tamura on his second Gato Libre release, Nomad. The Satoko Fujii Four’s When We Were There was pronounced by Tom Hull in Static Multimedia “The high point of an impressive year,” while Scott Yanow in All Music hailed it as “… a continually intriguing set of modern jazz.” Fragment introduced “Junkbox,” a trio featuring Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck. She also introduced the idea of “com-impro” on this album, in which the music is notated in graphic form rather than with traditional musical notation. Julian Crowley noted in The Wire that “…a sense of bristling energy demanding release is never far away.” In Krakow, In November, Fujii and Tamura’s third duo release, offers riveting and intimate reworkings of numerous compositions by the couple which were composed for their various ensembles. “The approach may be of the less-is-more vein, but the music turns out to be heavy with feeling. In Krakow, In November is a natural follow-up purchase for those who have been seduced by Gato Libre.” — François Couture, All Music Guide

Fujii’s 2006 touring highlights included appearances at Toyko’s Pit Inn as part of "The 22nd Tokyo Summer Festival 2006" with two of her big bands, Orchestra Tokyo and Orchestra Nagoya, as well as a show at The Stone in New York City with the Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, which was chosen as one of the “Best Performances of 2006” by All About Jazz New York. Her Min-Yoh Ensemble was heard at FIMAV (Victoriaville Festival, Canada) while the Satoko Fujii Four appeared throughout Japan as well as at "Lisbon's 2006 Jazz em Agosto" with Electric Ascension. The Satoko Fujii Quartet toured throughout Europe, with stops in Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.

In 2007-08 Fujii will release at least five new releases including Crossword Puzzle by Double Duo (Angelo Verploegen, trumpet; Misha Mengelberg, piano; Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Satoko Fujii), a live recording with violinist Carla Kihlstedt, Bacchus (Satoko Fujii Quartet), Trace A River (Satoko Fujii Trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black), and a second release from the trio Junk Box.

Fujii tirelessly continues to explore the possibilities and expand the parameters of the many groups she’s established over the past eleven years; there is certainly more provocative and exciting listening in store as she pursues her ultimate goal: “… to allow myself to do whatever I like without preconceptions. I would love to make music that no one has heard before.”




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