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The University of Hartford

Satoko Fujii Orchestra – Jo
BUZZ Records
by Chuck Obuchowski

    Imagine for a moment that you’re a young Japanese woman; you are blessed with the ability to play the piano exceptionally well, and you’ve been at it since the age of four, diligently studying the Western classical repertoire. But something’s missing; you yearn for less rigid musical structures, new challenges. Jazz seems to offer these possibilities ... so it’s off the United States, where you blossom at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, graduating magna cum laude in 1987.
    Returning to your homeland, you find work in jazz clubs, on television sets and as a performer for a software company. Still, you’re not satisfied; learning more about the musical traditions of Japan helps, but it’s not enough ... time to return to Boston, where studies at the New England Conservatory of Music at last bring you a sense of fulfillment, as do woodshedding sessions with creative improvisers.
    Your lengthy apprenticeship bears much artistic fruit. You begin recording and performing prolifically in 1996, both at home and abroad, culminating with Jo, a distinctive recorded document of your 15-piece New York band; later this year, the large ensemble you lead in Japan will see the release of its first CD.
    Such is the laudable saga of Satoko Fujii. Too bad the U.S. jazz industry, with few exceptions, no longer rewards innovation. Why else is it that this CD, recorded in Brooklyn two years ago, performed by acknowledged masters of creative improvisation, is being issued on a Dutch record label? Probably the same reason that many of the most respected American improvising musicians of the past several decades have had to resort to foreign companies to issue their work. If you need proof, take a look at the catalogues of Black Saint/Soul Note (Italy), DIW (Japan), ECM (Germany) and Owl (France).
    Granted, Jo (Japanese for "beginning") demands active listening from its audience. You won’t find Fujii’s name listed on any of the "Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon"-style compilations currently bombarding record stores... thank God! Forget the fancy wine glasses and candlelight; this is music for your soul. It requires you to concentrate if you wish to reap its rewards.
    Allow yourself to be swept up by the solemn grandeur of "Sola," with its layers of brass and reed instruments, a bluesy funeral procession. Marvel at Jack Walrath’s clarion call, his trumpet wailing and moaning above the murmur of the others.
    Be delighted by Chris Speed’s dancing clarinet, as its notes leap and shout gleefully--in step with his colleagues’ horns, tambourines and frame drums--during "Jasper."
    Or marvel at the leader’s dramatic entry on the title selection, her piano instantly silencing the saxophones, trumpets and trombones that have been vying for attention for the previous eight minutes. Here, as elsewhere on Jo, Fujii’s musical influences coalesce into something very unique, producing exciting compositional clay from which she and her band mates can mold bold new shapes with their improvisations.
    For more information about this and other BUZZ recordings, visit the company’s website at http://www.challenge.nl

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 2000

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