Yuko Yamakoa Plays Satoko Fujii

Diary 2005-2015_jacket_入稿

DIARY 2005-2015 / FUJII: 118 spontaneous unnamed short compositions / Yuko Yamakoa, pianist / Libra Records 201-053/54

This is surely one of the most unusual jazz recordings of this or any other year. Free jazz pianist Satoko Fujii, whose 60th birthday was this year, has apparently spent 15 minutes a day at her keyboard since 2005 improvising new pieces, most of which she has written down in a sort of musical diary. She has used some of them as the basis for fuller compositions, but most of them lay dormant until now. Fujii’s husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, urged her to sit down and review all of these spontaneous compositions during the first decade in which she started this and select the best ones. She did so, and apparently turned them over to fellow-pianist Yuko Yamakoa to play on this new 2-CD release.

The 118 short compositions, each of which bears a date in digital layout (“012805,” 122908,” etc.), are played with great care and skill by Yamakoa, and if we have here a remove from the actual moment of creation we still have a Zen-like portrait of Fujii’s musical mind. Except for the fact that Fujii herself does not play them, this album is analogous to Charles Mingus’ piano album Mingus Plays Mingus. We are listening not to Fujii the performer but Fujii the creator.

Needless to say, these are not full compositions, but rather brief snippets, ideas that flashed across Fujii’s mind, ended up on tape, and were then recreated here by Yamakoa. Most last less than a half-minute, the others about a minute. Thus this is far from being a collection of “complete” works, but rather just musical ideas that flashed across her mind. The interesting thing, however, is that many of them are tonal or at least modal, and in listening one gets a small idea of what any composer may come up with when thinking out loud at their instrument. I daresay that the same process was gone through by all major classical composers from Buxtehude to Berio as well.

A few are really fragmentary, and some others—i.e., track 8 of the first CD, from March 9 of 2005—seem more a juxtaposition of different ideas than one continuous musical thought. And only a few have what I would call a definite jazz feel to them; most actually sound like snippets from modern classical music. And of course, there is no continuity.

Nonetheless, most are quite interesting, and I found it somewhat astonishing to hear two successive snippets, the first from May 16, 2005 and the second from May 19, that sounded like a continuation. Of course, since we don’t have the ideas she came up with on May 17 or 18, we don’t know if that was an idea that she was working out that week, of which these two examples are the most complete in musical thought.

I would like to reiterate that, with so many of these pieces sounding tonal-modal, there almost seems to be an Eastern European feel about them—not so much Russian, I think, as perhaps Hungarian or Czech. This, too, is surprising in the work of a Japanese-American pianist, but this is what I heard. In 020907, Fujii used circular chromatics in a way similar to Nicolas Slonimsky’s exercise book, but in a more musically constructive way. The snippets from 122908 and 011509 almost sounds like a composition by Meredith Monk.

Clearly, this is not an album for casual listening, if for no other reason than that the music breaks off time and again in the midst of an idea. It is an album for very close, intense listening, and as such raises the bar for what constitutes a “jazz” album. Lounge lizards and casual jazz fans should stay as far away from this music as possible, and only a very few pieces (such as 050206, succeeded by 050306) provide any sort of structure that the untrained mind can grasp. Nonetheless, it is great in its own way as a glimpse into the mind of a highly creative artist, one who takes risks every time she sits down to a keyboard.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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