Not long ago a friend asked me what Kafkaesque meant. I explained the common usage, while suggesting that (like schizophrenic) it is a much-abused and inaccurate term. The conversation was revived a few hours before the wonderful duo concert bySatoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura.
This time it was about the usage of‘-esque’s & ‘-ian’s in reviews. Most jazz writers will have penned their Ayler and Coltrane, Tyner and Jarrett -esques. Is this just lazy avoidance of accurate description? Or can it be an important tool for points of reference?
In any event pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura have few -esques about them. Heard in duo format, their music has many facets, though a slightly sombre, even ominous, beauty is the prevalent one. They don’t, though, reference the jazz tradition as often as many of their contemporaries. I first heard them, in duo form, on the CD How Many? and was entranced by the delicate,but somewhat dark, playing.
Here at the Vortex, a favourite club of theirs, returned to after one of those tour itineraries that has jet lag written all over it, they were in marvellous form. Their command of dynamics is what sets them apart.
Often working small shifts on a simple motif, or playing quickfire unison openings, they captivate in such immediately appealing ways that it is a while before one is aware of the prodigious technique which both command. (I’ve long thought Tamura one of the very finest contemporary trumpeters,while Fujii is clearly one of the leading composers and musical thinkers.)
The first set was, perhaps, the more formal. The first piece embodied the aforementioned sombre, slightly ominous lyricism. Natsuki Tamura was used sparingly but effectively. Next came a simple piano motif that gradually went off kilter, over which some spell binding trumpet steepled and trilled.
Fujii delved inside the piano to produce an effect that was curiously Eastern, before combining with Tamura in another of those unison spirals, that could come from the classical tradition as easily as jazz (or neither). They both estranged, but never lost, the pulse in a piece I think I recognised from How Many?.
Even when scraping and rattling, and producing ping-pong/stoppered effects, as Fujii did in the next piece, orplaying only the mouthpiece of his trumpet (with cupped hands,producing a wah wah/Clangers speak effect) as Tamura did in thesecond set, this is entirely cogent and in keeping; there is aclarity to the pieces, which often end on the purest of tones from Tamura and elegant chords from Fujii. Long, varied discourses andphrase dissection never move far from the motif stated or the atmosphere established at the start of the piece and the effect ismesmerising. Fujii sticks to the middle register in great part,with occasional forays upwards, and sometimes surprises with a squeak as an implement within the piano announces itself.
The second set was somewhat freer, but the basic modus operandi was retained. Brilliant playing serving distinctive,accessible but never trite sonorities. Whether their Japanese background is a factor in the absence of clear references to the jazz tradition is a moot point. (I noticed here, as I have before, that Fujii occasionallyplays phrases that could just as well be played by a prog rock pianistas, say, Cecil Taylor, but as elsewhere, it works: context is all.)
At the end of an exhilarating evening, Satoko Fujii spoke of’healing music’ (which is an almost Ayleresque concept, of course,though the American saxophonist may not have had jet lag in mind),before they closed with ‘Prayer’, the closest thing to a traditionalballad played all evening, without the rhythmic displacements thatFujii had used elsewhere. Not -esque at all, but Miles would have beenproud of it.
Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura work in myriad aggregations, from solo through to big band, via the group Gato Libre, where Fujii plays accordion, and various electronic projects. It is as a duo that I first heard, and was captivated by them.
As a duo here, though they are not without a humorous side, they produced some of the most purely, if occasionally severely, beautiful music that I’ve heard in years.
Photo Credit : Tomasz Woźniczka / Izabela Lechowicz
With thanks to Chris Parker