Style: Big Band
Label: Libra Records
Musicians: Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss - alto saxophones; Ellery Eskelin, Chris Speed - tenor saxophones; Andy Laster - baritone saxophone; Herb Robertson, Dave Ballou, Frank London, Natsuki Tamura - trumpets; Joey Sellers, Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler - trombones; Satoko Fujii - piano; Stomu Takeishi - bass; Aaron Alexander - drums.
|Pianist/composer Satoko Fujii|
On this new CD "Eto" which is intended as a 60th birthday tribute to her husband/collaborator/trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, Fujii reveals a composer's creative imagination and power that flows like Niagara Falls; centuries old; limitless in grandeur; stunning in volume; mesmerizing in its sheer depth; and as magnificent in the artistic tumble of its rolling chaos, as the gigantic 'falls' cascading down the throat of a continent. The angular, jagged sound of the band takes the senses over with suspense, energy and exhilaration.
Fujii employs the centuries-old Chinese zodiac, called "Eto" in Japan, as a gateway into an expansive sound world which the band, made up of musicians from her native Japan, the United States and France, inhabits fully to unleash inundating torrents of its music; sometimes crashing, cacophonous and antic (The North Wind And The Sun); but also soothingly co-mingled with airy, cohesive, convivial strains (Stroll). Fujii allows her musicians ample space for free-flowing thought-composing, stating, "I write the frame and let the players draw and paint their own picture." The result on "Eto," is an intensely busy, sharply defined kaleidoscope of individual colors which, when experienced as a moving musical panorama, attacks the senses with a vibrant ferocity that is electrifying.
Each of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac is represented in Fujii's "Eto," and through them she displays brilliant composing talent, using a wide array of moods, textures, colors, and emotions, which are magically expanded into a twelve-month musical calendar, rich in vitality and movement, that mark a special celebration for sixty-year-olds called "Kanreki." The work is divided into a series of comet-like arcs, developed with quick intensity, which builds into a larger, more detailed movement, held together by an idiosyncratic musical attitude, and an enthusiastic, capricious temperament. The entire section is swept along with a peristaltic push like a well-fitted vessel in roiling waters.
With a number of outstanding soloists to draw from, Fujii is able to change textures and colors without sacrificing thematic richness; resulting in a consistency of creativity that remains fresh, provocative, and excitingly unpredictable (Eto Suite). The grandeur and voluminous capacity of Fujii's creative imagination pierce the fabric of "The North Wind And Sun," like the mystifying, cosmic beams of a million stars, light-years away, but somehow always in the moment. There is an obvious randomness to the singular composing ideas, but when opened out over the entirety of their natural sound scape, they burgeon into a well-integrated, cohesive, arresting work.
The "Eto Suite" which comprises the main body of the work, is a tour de force of composing on the move, simultaneously plumbing the sheer depth of Fujii's talents. Throughout the section, the fundamental achievement of the ensemble is unobtrusive, sturdy, unified support, with an adroitly arranged interlace of trumpets, trombones and saxophones allowing the soloists to paint uncannily startling musical animal portraits. Of particular distinction, are the imaginatively creative solos of tenor saxophonist Chris Speed on "Rat," tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin on "Tiger," trumpeter Natsuki Tamura on "Snake," baritone saxophonist Andy Laster on "Horse," and trumpeter Herb Robertson on "Rooster." This is not to suggest that the other soloist are not as entertaining, but the performances are so riveting as to carry the senses instinctively towards the enchanted sounds of certain favored animals.
Finally, Fujii reveals the swelling joy realized in the magnificence of the marriage of her composing style, with the ensemble's cohesiveness, execution, versatility and spontaneity of thought, on the deliberate, magisterial "Epilogue," then transforming the mood into the overwrought stir of a "Pressure Cooker," with rising tension skillfully and hypnotically created by the dark trombone of Curtis Hasselbring, releasing it through Joe Fiedler's bright, energetic trumpet, inducing a sense of comfort in "Stroll " and guiding this wonderfully innovative work to an end.
Graphic designer Masako Tanaka must be applauded for the aesthetically delightful art work on the CD jacket. The cover itself is priceless.
Track listing: The North Wind And The Sun; (Eto Suite) - Overture; Rat; Ox; Tiger; Hare; Dragon; Snake; Horse; Ram; Monkey; Rooster; Dog; Boar; Epilogue; Pressure Cooker; Stroll.
Executive Producer: Natsuki Tamura - Design: Masako Tanaka
Recorded and mixed by Mike Marciano.
Mastered by Scott Hull (MASTERDISK, NYC)