Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe

Imagine Meeting You Here
Alister Spence Music ASM 008

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo

Kikoeru Tribute to Masaya Kimura

Libra Records 215-055

A couple of weighty baubles commemorating the ongoing celebrations that marked Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii’s 60th birthday, these circular presents preserve more instances of her big band skills. The composer/conductor who has organized large ensembles in New York, Berlin and throughout Japan is here involved with two different big bands creatively exploring separate suspects of the orchestral idea.

Named for tenor saxophonist Masaya Kimura, a 20 year charter member of Fujii’s Tokyo band who died in 2017, the suite is both an elegy and an evocation. The six compositions interpreted by the 14-piece band are also unique in that there’s no piano input. Fujii conducts but doesn’t play. A doctoral dissertation for improvising orchestra, the five-part Imagine Meeting You Here was put together by Australian composer/pianist Alister Spence, who has worked with Fujii in smaller groups. Played by the 15-piece Orchestra Kobe, it includes Fujii’s approach to the piano, with Spence conducting.

Working from a juddering introduction of stop-time theme variations involving burping trombones, jiggling reed harmonies and a climax splotched with brass color, Orchestra Tokyo extrapolates the subsequent, 17½ minute “Farewell’ from a processional threnody led by funereal drum beats with brass decorations to a sweetened countermelody that joins with the other to reach a crescendo mid-way through. Later the theme is emotionally deconstructed by tenor saxophonist Kenichi Matsumoto’s blend of explosive sheets of sound, frenetic slurs and screeched split tones, seconded by Toshiki Nagata’s thick double bass string strokes. Watery and barely there, the title track evocatively mixes alp-horn-like cries from trumpeter Yoshihito Fukumoto, top-of-range peeps from trombonist Toshihiro Koike and tenor saxophonist Daisuke Fujiwara ‘s shaded reed bites that suggest a haunting mood along with life affirmation.

Kimura’s range must have encompassed Hard Bop and R&B echoes, for the subsequent compositions lean heavily on drummer Akira Horikoshi’s backbeat rhythms that would be home on a JBs session plus heraldic trumpet blasts from Takao Watanabe that seem half bluesy Cootie William swing and half dizzyingly Maynard Ferguson-like bravado. Interestingly enough Fujii’s composition is more multi-layered, while “Stop and Go”, written by trumpeter Natsuki Tamura takes the group past Funk to near-Rock with Ryuichi Yoshida’s snorting baritone saxophone vamps into a polyphonic climax.

Orchestra Kobe’s performance of Spence’s suite is more contiguous and balances the emotional and the energetic during its sequences. The range of colors available in the arrangements is expanded as well. Fujii’s alternately melodic and mercurial piano plus Takumi Seino’s stimulating guitar runs give Imagine Meeting You Here a chordal centre, and adds some group nonsense vocalizing that’s more Bop than any Japanese music, while paradoxically at points intertwining the narrative with the traditional sounds of Eiichiro Arasaki’s shakuhachi. Although sonic contradictions are exposed at the top with parallelism among male-female voices, Asian and Occidental timbres and pinched or powerful horn solos, musical conflict is resolved both at the conclusion and during sequences throughout.“Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 2: (Meeting)” for instance is completed by melding into an unaccompanied choir, the individual timbres of a saxophonist, a trombonist and a trumpeter.

The harmonious polyphony which wraps up the music in the concluding “Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 5 (Postscript)” makes the track more than a coda, when trombonist Arimoto’s horse whinnies and a saxophonist’s altissimo aviary outbursts on top of Seino’s guitar licks surge to add more creative details, until all instruments unite in a near symphonic finale. Still the most dramatic demonstration of Spence’s arranging smarts occurs on “Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 4: (Here)” which explodes into cascading vibrations almost as soon as the scene is set. With drummer Yoshikazu Isaki’s foot tapping beats leading the way, the steadily accelerating narrative makes room for trumpeter Rabito Arimoto rugged vamps, tenor saxophonist Tsutomu Takei’s honks and Fujii’s high-frequency chording that brings out a swinging melody. Finally the criss-crossing textures come in and out of aural focus.

On the evidence here, Fujii’s birthday presents to herself are also elating nearly three dozen other musicians and of course the listener.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Kikoeru: 1. Amadare 2. Farewell 3. Kikoeru 4. Neppa 5. Stop and Go

6. Ah Dadada

Personnel: Kikoeru: Natsuki Tamura, Yoshihito Fukumoto, Takao Watanabe, Yusaku Shirotani, Yoshihito Fukumoto (trumpet); Haguregumo Nagamatsu, Yasuyuki Takahashi, Toshihiro Koike (trombone); Sachi Hayasaka (soprano, alto saxophones): Kunihiro Izumi (alto saxophone): Kenichi Matsumoto, Daisuke Fujiwara (tenor saxophone): Ryuichi Yoshida (baritone saxophone); Toshiki Nagata (bass): Akira Horikoshi (drums); Satoko Fujii (conductor)

Track Listing: Kobe: 1. Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 1: (Imagine) 2. Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 2: (Meeting) 3. Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 3: (You) 4. Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 4: (Here ) 5. Imagine Meeting You Here, Pt. 5 (Postscript

Personnel: Kobe: James Barrett, Shojiro Yokoo, Natsuki Tamura, Rabito Arimoto (trumpet): Yusuke Imanishi, Yasuko Kaneko (trombone): Ko Iwata, Yasuhisa Mizutani (alto saxophone): Eiichiro Arasaki (tenor saxophone, shakuhachi): Tsutomu Takei (tenor saxophone); Keizo Nobori (baritone saxophone); Satoko Fujii (piano): Takumi Seino (guitar); Hiroshi Funato (bass); Yoshikazu Isaki (drums); Alister Spence (conductor)