Best of Jazz Editors’ Picks Review

Review: Satoko Fujii, FUKUSHIMA



© Copyright 2017 – Libra Records 214-044

Reviewed By Scott Yanow

Jazz Artistry Now – Composer-pianist-bandleader Satoko Fujii is considered a giant of the avant-garde. Prior to launching her very prolific career, she attended Berklee (College of Music) and the New England Conservatory of Music where her teachers included George Russell, Cecil McBee, and Paul Bley.

Her first CD as a leader was in 1996 and in the following 21 years she has led more than 80 albums. Whether in a big band, a duo with her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura or in a medium-sized ensemble, Ms. Fujii always creates new music, fulfilling her constant goal to perform music that has never been heard before.

To celebrate her 60th birthday, Satoko Fujii is releasing one new CD in each month of 2018, 12 in all. Fukushima is her tenth CD with her 14-piece orchestra in 20 years.

Fukushima is a project close to Ms. Fujii’s heart. In 2011, a nuclear power plant disaster resulted in much devastation in that city and widespread fear that it could contaminate all of Japan. In her five-piece hour-long suite, Ms. Fujii seeks to musically depict the experience of having to live through the accident and the many emotions involved.

The piece begins very quietly with the horn players breathing through their instruments without actually hitting notes. The ominous beginning includes nonmusical sounds that portray the nuclear plant, the feeling that things are starting to get out of control, and ensembles that get more and more furious. Here, as throughout the suite, Ms. Fujii’s electronics are a major part of the group’s sound.

The second section has rockish sections for the leader’s keyboards, a tenor solo over the sparse backing, some high-note trombone work that becomes quite rambunctious, a menacing strut, and a serious melody played at length before the piece becomes deathly quiet.

In the third part, a flutist seems to be making comments about the devastation, there are some sounds of suffering and an unaccompanied trumpet that gradually becomes angry before fading into despair.

The fourth section which has a bass pattern for a tenor to play over and heated trumpet by Herb Robertson alternating with an electronic section ends up with the band repeating a riff with determination as if to say that the people are going to survive all of this. The fifth and final part is a brief theme that is wistful and thoughtful, giving one a slight bit of optimism and hope.

Fukushima is an intriguing piece that is well worth a close listen.


Satoko Fujii – piano, keyboards, electronics
Dave Ballou, Herb Robertson, Natsuki Tamura – trumpets
Joey Sellers, Joe Fielder, Curtis Hasselbring – trombones
Oscar Noriega – alto
Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby – tenors
Andy Laster – baritone
Nels Cline – guitar
Stomu Takeishi – bass
Ches Smith – drums

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Listen and purchase a copy online at Libra Records.


Mr. Yanow

The Jazz Artistry Now review of Fukushima was written by Scott Yanow.

Mr. Yanow has written 11 books on jazz, over 800 liner notes, and more than 20,000 recording reviews through the years. His writing has graced virtually all of the top jazz magazines and he is happy to be a new contributor to Jazz Artistry Now.