Down Town Music Gallaly

SATOKO FUJII ORCHESTRA [NAGOYA VERSION] – Nagoyanian (Bakamo 01; Japan) This is the sixth fabulous disc for that ever-adventurous and ultra-busy pianist and composer Satoko Fujii and her marvelous 16 piece Japanese (West) orchestra. On ‘Nogoyanian’, Satoko is the conductor and co-composer with her husband and trumpet ace Natsuki Tamura, she plays no piano here. The five works are long, complex, diverse and fascinating. Instead of piano, we find the strong playing of electric guitarist Yasuhiro Usui, who is also the producer, as well as the superb electric bass of Shigeru Suzuki. Ms. Fujii consistently blends genres/styles, mixing jazz, rock and progressive influences into an intense new sound. I hear some of those dark Crimson-like waves in her writing on the dynamic title piece, which features one of those truly sick and well-placed noise guitar solos. Natsuki’s “Masai No Mai” features some spooky vocal sounds, twisted horn parts, bird-calls and delightfully weird writing. There are six sax players here, none of whom I am familiar with but there are a number of outstanding solos throughout, as well as some great work from the six brass players. From the insert photo, I get the feeling that most of these musicians are pretty young, yet the overall sound is that of a tight, mature and well-seasoned big band. “Fue Taiko” reminds me of that Zappa-like humor and bluesiness, that his early 70′s bands did so well. Some 25 releases later and Satoko Fujii continues to astonish us with her large palette of accomplishments.


Pianist and composer Satoko Fujii leads three different bands under the title of the East Orchestra―one in Tokyo, the other in Kobe, and the wildest one in Nagoya, which is just now releasing its debut outing on guitarist and producer Yasuhiro Usui’s new label, Bakamo. This sixteen-piece orchestra features Fujii’s partner and close musical collaborator, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura; tenor saxist Kenichi Matsumoto; and baritone saxist Ryuichi Yoshida, who played with other versions of the East Orchestra ( Double Take, EWE 2000; Before The Dawn, Polystar 2003); plus thirteen other young musicians from Nagoya who were picked by Usui. This time Fujii is only the conductor. You cannot tame such an eccentric band from the piano stool.
The Orchestra kicks off with a new and charged arrangement of “Nagoyanian,” which was recorded by the West Orchestra on Blueprint (Polystar 2004). The orchestra plays as if possessed from the first note, following a jagged electric guitar solo by Usui and propulsion from the muscular rhythm section of drummer Hisamine Kondo and electric bass player Shigeru Suzuki. The horn section whirls around the galloping beat of Kondo and Shigreu. Tamura uses the orchestra as a kind of a twisted choir on his “Masai No Mai,” as he did before with the East Orchestra on “Oseka-Yansado” ( Double Take ) and “Wakerasuka” ( Before The Dawn ); and the West Orchestra on “Ocha!” ( Blueprint ), but this time to a better effect. The Nagoyanian players enjoy indulging themselves in cartoonish voices and ceremonial toy playing.
On “Fue Taiko” Fujii creates a beautiful gradual buildup of the horn section, and on “Exile,” which was recorded by the West Orchestra, she highlights the trumpets in the orchestra over a bleak and ethereal atmosphere. The closing track, Tamura’s “Tobifudo,” was recorded first on his first solo disc in 1992 and later by the West Orchestra. It gets a feverish arrangement advanced by the thunderous drumming of Kondo and collective maniacal shouting of the horns.
The US-based West Orchestra is more imbued in the great tradition of jazz and blues and may be more open rhythmically, but this stormy version of the East Orchestra brings forth Fujii as a unique composer who can turn compositions upside down and always find deep and exciting nuances in them. This disc was recorded in the Tokuzo live-house at Nagoya, where Usui managed to preserve the raw sound of the orchestra.

(By Eyal Hareuveni)