Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin

Ninety-Nine Years
Libra Records 211-047

Some people collect classic cars, others specific paintings, but Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii collects groups. Besides the number of duos, trios and quartets the peripatetic pianist is part of, she has organized – at last count – five different big bands, each relating to where in Europe, Asia or North America she happened to be residing at the time. At the same time Ninety-Nine Years, a new configuration of her Orchestra Berlin, demonstrates that her skill as orchestrator, pianist and composer are formidable for every item in her collection. She has help of course. Featured on this disc’s five tracks, are besides her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, of international, Berlin-based players Polish baritone saxophonist Paulina Owczarek, French drummer Peter Orins, Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano, and Germans Richard Koch (trumpet(; Matthias Müller (trombone); Matthias Schubert and Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophones); Jan Roder (bass) and Michael Griener (drums).

Cosmopolitan, Fujii’s program gives nearly everyone some meaty sequences. The tricky “Oops,” for instance, undulates with altissimo saxophone snarls and a near-Celtic melody from the trumpeters, calmed with a double bass ostinato and completed with brassy, high-pitched distinctive big band motifs. Roder’s low-pitched pumps introduce the title tunes, which is taken out by Ullmann’s high-intensity spills and split tones, and is eventually subsumed by harmonized riffs from all the horns which fill in any spaces left open by the saxophonist. There, and elsewhere, especially on “On the Way”, the dual drummers send the theme on its way by percussion displays that range from bell shaking and gong resonation all the way to marching band-like variables. However Griener’s and Orins’ touch is zippy enough that they come across as a minimalist Rich vs. Roach variation, and appear to be playing with their palms as often as sticks and/or brushes. That same tune has one of Tamura’s more memorable solos where he vibrates, sucks and peeps textures from his horn that float from ghostly gagaku-like scariness to cartoon-like drollery.

Wrapping up the session with the brief “Follow the Idea” that adds polyharmoy and polyrhythm to drive the narrative alongside some distorted yodeling and puffing, the guttural fluttering and peeping cacophony in punctuated with pauses. When the finale comes, there’s no doubt a first class big band session has been created.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Unexpected Incident 2. Ninety-Nine Years 3. On the Way 4. Oops 5. Follow the Idea

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura, Richard Koch, Lina Allemano (trumpet); Matthias Müller (trombone); Matthias Schubert, Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone); Paulina Owczarek (baritone saxophone); Satoko Fujii (piano); Jan Roder (bass); Michael Griener, Peter Orins (drums)