Satoko Fujii – Kikoeru: Tribute to Masaya Kimura
(Libra Records: Libra 215-055. CD review by Nick Davies)
Kikoeru is the most wide-ranging and eclectic album yet from the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo; the composer-pianist’s big band of 21 years. On this, their sixth release in just over two decades, the orchestra brings to life four compositions by Fujii and two by trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Both these two compositional voices add a further diversity to a wild and wooly album that already covers a broad spectrum of sound and feeling.
Fujii states “Orchestra Tokyo has such high energy that I didn’t want to lose it. Usually I like one strong theme and color on a CD but, this time, I focused on keeping the energy. I asked Natsuki to arrange two of his pieces for the orchestra as his music fits the band perfectly. His compositions always bring a lot of energy and playing his music means having fun. Everybody loves playing his pieces because they are not difficult to read but they offer a lot of ideas and freedom.”
The first track Amadare which means “raindrop” in Japanese, starts with a sound much like a wail but is meant to replicate raindrops falling in the wind. It is so realistic that it is difficult to understand how the orchestra achieves this in a musical setting. A particularly soft opening gradually gathers pace, leading to a storm with the orchestra’s percussive chords. The louder the storm, the louder the music, enhanced by Tamura’s trumpet, weaving between the music, as though he is travelling through the it. High notes rising above the sound of the orchestra is reminiscent of a ship appearing above the rough waves at sea. This track is superb: the music seamlessly transports listeners through the scenes of its dramatic story.
From the epic opening, Fujii moves on to the song Farewell which is a tribute to tenor saxophonist, Masaya Kimura (to whom the entire album is dedicated), who sadly passed away in 2017. This emotive track starts slowly with the full orchestra before rising to a crescendo. The ensuing two instruments competing by playing the same beats intermittently is very effective but the highlight, for me, is Kenichi Matsumoto’s cathartic, full-throated solo: pure genius and a fitting farewell to a respected musician.
The title track, Kikoeru, means “can hear” in Japanese, and is based on an experience Fujii had on a train station in the Japanese countryside: “I was waiting for the train, and I could hear a very faint sound from somewhere,” she explains. “It might have been the wind, or maybe a sound from the rails, because the train was heading for the station, but far away. I only could hear it if I paid attention, but it was super beautiful.” Again, the first few bars sets the tone: still and breathless, rather like a train in the distance. This is accompanied by the orchestra playing the same note – an eerie sound, presenting the perception of something happening in the distance. Haunting solos by Toshihiro Koike (trombone), Yoshihito Fukumoto (trumpet) and Daisuke Fujiwara (tenor sax) bring this track to life and reinforces Fujii’s musical prowess.
The rest of the album follows in similar vein, brilliant compositions accompanied by some of the best playing you are ever likely to hear. Whilst Fujii’s scores are complex and constrained, Tamura’s compositions unleash the band for some of their most freewheeling and vibrant playing. On Stop and Go he pits the trumpet and trombone sections against each other in a musical battle. It then surges into swing, featuring the entire saxophone section building to the grand finale. Another 21st Century orchestral tune that really complements Fujii’s work.
Overall, this is a brilliant release with epic tracks from start to finish. The length of some pieces could be questioned, however in my book time is immaterial when the music is this good. There is no outstanding song as they are all composed and delivered to an exceptional standard. It’s difficult to find another composer like Fujii who can write improvised music for a large ensemble so well and I doubt that there ever will be. This release ticks all the boxes and is an absolute must-listen.