NYC JAZZ record duet


Duet documents a first-time meeting between pianist Satoko Fujii and bassist/flutist Joe Fonda in Portland, Oregon, in 2015 and it results in two pieces: “Paul Bley”, a long and sometimes quietly intense extended
improvisation between the two, and a relatively brief piece in which they’re joined by Fujii’s husband and frequent musical partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Whether “Paul Bley” was titled before or after the
pianist’s death, it’s a fitting invocation as well as a particularly personal one: Fujii studied with Bley at the New England Conservatory in the ‘90s and her first recording, 1994-95’s Something About Water consisted
largely of hand-in-glove duets with the senior pianist. It’s an episodic improvisation, Fujii and Fonda alternately introducing materials that blossom into collective music. The two share a warmth and lyricism that lends a consistency of mood as well as thematic development. Fonda has a rich resonance and his lines are filled with subtle expressive touches. His unaccompanied bass is the first thing that we hear, his melodic lead developing a certain bluesy reverence. From there, it’s a fluid, shared invention, an exploration of each other’s special resources. There are explosions of spontaneous color, rapid-fire inventions in which Fujii explores the breadth of the keyboard accompanied by Fonda’s own explosive runs and dense ostinatos; there’s a moment of absolute reverie when Fonda turns to his flute and the two craft a spontaneous ballad that might have sprung from the imagination of Satie or Debussy. At another moment, an isolated plucked string from Fujii calls up a koto, leading to a distinctly Japanese meditation; Fonda’s vigorously plucked harmonics suggests the same instrument, inspiring zither-like string sweeps from the pianist. Each has a certain percussive bent and there are moments when Fonda’s deliberately buzzing strings or Fujii’s use of brittle vibrating materials on the piano strings seem to add a drummer to the proceedings, suggesting the classic piano trio. Tamura, a master of timbral mutation, introduces “JSN” with muted, sustained trills, creating a dense and narrow pitch range from which Fujii’s spacious, probing melody arises, gradually ascending higher in pitch, knotting in clusters with Fonda and some highpitched percussion. As that movement ebbs, Tamura turns to the lowest range of his trumpet to initiate some startlingly speech-like effects, until he is eventually joined by flute and prepared piano in music that’s wildly playful with a certain macabre dissonance. It’s an inventive meeting, with plenty of promise for the future but already substantial achievement.

Stuart Broomer

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