Fujii & Tamura Ain’t Playing Together!

Pentas cover

PENTAS / FUJII: Not Together. Wind Chili. Rising. Circle. TAMURA: Pentas. Itsumo Itsumo. Stillness. Renovation / Natsuki Tamura, tpt; Satoko Fujii, pno / Not Two MW999-2

Satoko Fujii is clearly the most adventurous of free jazz pianists. Some of her experiments in sound I find interesting and valid, and some I don’t. This one lies somewhere in between.

The very first track, Not Together, is a perfect example. The idea behind this is that the piano and the trumpet should never play on the same beat at the same time, and by golly, they don’t. Both employ a staccato style to their respective instruments in addition to her normal atonality; it almost sounds as if shards of notes are dropping from each instrument to create a sort of sideways polyphonic web of sound, and Fujii continues this into her solo. It’s an interesting bit of musical anarchy, however, which I found interesting.

Up next is Pentas, which begins with Fujii sprinkling a few notes here and there while Tamura plays somewhat lyrical lines. The pianist then follows his lead with some semi-lyrical playing, and they go back and forth like this through the rest of the track, with both players becoming more and more atonal as the music continues. Interestingly, considering that this piece was composed by Tamura, Fujii is again the only one to take a solo. When Tamura plays, Fujii is still playing behind him. Women’s lib, I suppose!

Wind Chili opens with some lovely pentatonic arpeggios by the pianist, with the trumpeter playing his own somewhat lyrical line against it. Yet the harmonic dissonance remains throughout, and the trumpet eventually moves into fast, wild passages up and down the horn. It ends on an unresolved chord.

In Pentas, Tamura plays the same note over and over using a plunger mute as the pianist wends her way around him. Eventually, Fujii goes a bit berserk, prodding the trumpet into joining her, which he does but apparently not being able to find his way into her sound world. Stillness opens with a strange, low sound—the trumpet playing softly in its lowest range?—followed by piano chords, resolutely in D major as the trumpet plays a short series of four notes, repeated. The pianist then plays her own series of isolated notes. The piano gets deeper and stranger-sounding as the trumpet plays a series of figures in and out of the tonality.

Rising opens with Fujii playing the inside strings of the piano in a slow, mysterious series of notes, followed by Tamura playing distorted quarter-tones on his. Eventually, by the 3:15 mark, some semblance (but only a semblance) of harmonic unity enters the piece. The music becomes busier and busier (mostly in the piano part) around 5:14 before settling back down again, yet wilder and more outside towards the end.

I couldn’t make heads or tails out of Renovation, which opens with Fujii playing unison Ds three octaves apart as Tamura noodles away. The music then becomes faster, busier, and more atonal for a spell before returning to the weird opening.

This series of strange dialogues continues apace, although Circle was more lyrical (and a bit more tonal) than many of the other pieces. Some of this album I liked; some of it just confused me, not because I couldn’t understand what they were doing so much as I couldn’t figure out why they were doing it. Bottom line, musical sense and nonsense operate side by side in this very odd album. Worth hearing for the good tracks, however.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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