Brass front lines in a quartet and a quintet setting led from the piano
bench are the points of congruence for these sessions. However the sounds
of French pianist Sophia Domancich's band range from contemporary to almost-outside
jazz. On the other hand, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii is attempting to
link her modern, near-outside jazz with avant rock.
The compositions on Domancich's CD comes together more often, using as
they do some of the best inside/outside players in France. But at some
points during its nine selections, the music becomes a bit too predictable.
Braver in her aspirations, Fujii is unfortunately saddled with the drummer
from a famousNipponese rock band who bumps most of the time, rather than
swings. Yet, although her session has many awkward moments, it's often
as listenable as the other, just to try to figure out what her quartet
is attempting to do.
Someone who divides her time between Manhattan and Tokyo, Fujii has degrees
from both Berklee and the New England Conservatory of Music. During the
past decade, she has explored different facets of improvised music, often
with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. The two have performed as
duo, he has been part of her big band and on her own she has also recorded
in the classic piano trio formation. Recently rock rhythms have fascinated
her, as Minerva is the third recent CD she's done with drummer Tatsuya
Yoshida. Co-founder of The Ruins, Yoshida is by no means a jazzman; whether
he's an improviser is a question that's also unresolved. The quartet here
is filled out by Tamura and bassist Takeharu Hayakawa, who besides his
improv work with John Zorn and as part of saxophonist Dr. Umezu's band
in Japan, also plays electric bass in funk and R&B groups.
Vulcan, the first CD by this group was notable for the sheer novelty of
Fujii exposing her rock'n'roll heart. On this one, however, the freshness
is starting to wear off since Yoshida appears to be unwilling -- or perhaps
unable -- to modify his style the way the other modify theirs to deal
with new impulses.
"Warp," for instance, begins with the drummer vocalizing the
sort of electronically processed ghost-like noises he often exhibits with
The Ruins. After Tamura's similarly processed trumpet tones succeeds this,
Yoshida smashes out
some speedy beats, leaving the groove to be created by Hayakawa's foursquare
bass work and Fujii's piano explorations. As the theme is smeared out
by the trumpeter in bent notes and high-pitched flourishes, the pianist
produces a dissonant cascade of notes, gliding over the keys as a countermelody.
Tamura may speed up his well-modulated brassy shakes and flutter tongued
grace notes to a near blur by the end, but the only rhythm section member
varying the underlying vamp is the bassist.
Better is "Weft," where Fujii's almost-Chopinesque solo and
Tamura's legato muted lines restrain the drummer for a time. Yet once
the Latinesque riff appears on the keyboard, the thumping begins. Clipping
the keys in a high-intensity rhythmic response Fujii continues at an accelerated
pace, with enough space left for an angular bass solo filled with obligatory
Tamura can triple tongue with a Lee Morgan-like vigor and spit out pistol-cracking
notes with the best of them, while Fujii's high intensity, syncopated
tremolos suggest a highly strung Bill Evan or Paul Bley. But the CD really
come together on pieces like "Caught in a web" when the couple
gets a full buy-in from the other two.
With the buzz of the bass amp following inside piano research and preceding
mid-tempo trumpet runs, Tamura's distant brass cries on that composition
turn first to pure buzz, then to pure shriek. Thumbtaps high on the bass
neck set up a rolling ostinato from drums and what sounds like fists pounding
on the piano keys. As the husband-wife team's music turns more spacey,
Hayakawa counters with electric bass thumps and Yoshida with rocking snare-drum
rhythms. Upbeat, the tune ends with first one short and quick, then an
even speedier reprise of the whinnying trumpet, bisected by bass line
Fujii may be trying to forge a new jazz-rock mixture, while Domancich
seems to have created a musical scenario that blends Gallic-style Jazz
Messengers output with brass band overtures.
Graduate of Paris's Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique,
the pianist has worked with saxophonists like Steve Lacy and Evan Parker,
led her own trio with British bassist and drummer Paul Rogers and Tony
Levin, and from 1997 to 2000 held down the piano chair in France' Orchestre
National du Jazz.
More or less organized as a cohesive spiritual suite, Pentacle gives the
impression that much of it was notated rather than improvised. Certainly
the solos and ensemble passages fit together more ball-and-socket than
Minerva. Domancich's conception includes the use of Michael Marre's euphonium
in the chair filled by a trombone in most bands. A mellow, tenor tuba,
the euphonium is usually found in Dixieland combinations except for the
hard-bop work of Detroit's Kiane Zawadi. Marre, who has been part of the
New Jungle Orchestra and played with pianist Mal Waldon, should be so
distinctive. Except for the odd passage, most finessed tones here seem
to issue from the flugelhorn of Jean-Luc Cappozo, who has been a member
of guitarist Raymond Boni's octet and of Hexagone, a brass sextet.
Bass duties are handled by Claude Tchamitchian, who has also played with
Boni, trombonist Yves Robert and American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee.
Drummer Simon Goubert has played in a trio with trombonist Glenn Ferris.
Throughout, the five musicians -- led by Domancich's often mellow and
two-handed piano playing, are put through their paces, trying on a variety
of influences for size: near-blues, modal, child-like ditties, Cool school
and hardish bop. "Belchose," a ballad, finds Marre wielding
his unusual axe with the facility of a Bob Brookmeyer, spurred on by Goubert's
sizzle cymbal and slow-moving brass choruses behind him. Fast, boppish
stuff you would expect from Oscar Peterson or Martial Solal's more conventional
trios, "65er" gives full reign to the pianist's ability to build
up tunelets that turn around on one another, gradually moving up in pitch
and speed as Cappozzo arrives to play in unison with her.
On the other hand, the title tune seems to adapt motifs from the 19th
century classical tradition and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage"
in equal measure,then stretch them over skittering half-valve trumpet
effects. With Cappozzo in the Eddie Henderson role, the tempo shifts to
that of a Ahmad Jamal-like foot tapper led by the pianist, with the drummer
emphasizing swinging sizzle cymbals and press rolls. As the tempo accelerates
the brass section responds with sharp notes and fanfares.
Completed with a literal 34 second coda, the suite's final seconds find
the two horns moving in march formation countering Domancich's light,
Red Garland-style chording and a final recapitulation of the theme.
High-intensity tremolo work and pinpointed piano fills help Domancich
keep the suite's basic leitmotif going, though there are times that the
build up of brass and rhythm become so overwhelming that it angles the
music away from the night club and more towards the parade ground. That
she's able to get so many hues from her brass choir is a testament to
Domancich's compositional and arrangement talents. Alternately sombre
and sprightly, the music on the CD would be perfect jazz festival fare
-- maybe it already has been. That way the fervor of the live moment may
mask many of the more standard passages.
pianist/composer has tried something a little different on her disc and
each has been semi-successful. Yet both CDs provide many more -- and newer
-- reasons to follow closely anything the two create.
Listing: Minerva: 1. Tatsu Take; 2. Warp; 3. Selvedge; 4. Weft; 5. Caught
in a web
Track Listing: Pentacle: 1. Vestiges Pentacote Suite; 2. Don't Even Think
About It; 3. Pentacôte; 4. Polygone de Sustentation; 5. Étoile
Rouge; 6. Belchose; 7. 65ter; 8. Raoul; 9. Final
Minerva: Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Satoko Fujii, piano; Takeharu Hayakawa,
bass, electric bass; Tatsuya Yoshida, drums, voice
Pentacle: Jean-Luc Cappozo, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michel Marre, euphonium;
Sophia Domancich, piano; Claude Tchamitchian, bass; Simon Goubert, drums