Libra Records




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SATOKO FUJII QUARTET
Minerva
Libra Records
FK-204-007-CD

SOPHIA DOMANCICH
Pentacle
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SKE 333032


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 thumb pops.

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 only
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 fuzztones.

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 anything on
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.

Each 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.


-- Ken Waxman


Track 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


Personnel: Minerva: Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Satoko Fujii, piano; Takeharu Hayakawa, bass, electric bass; Tatsuya Yoshida, drums, voice

Personnel: Pentacle: Jean-Luc Cappozo, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michel Marre, euphonium; Sophia Domancich, piano; Claude Tchamitchian, bass; Simon Goubert, drums