|Satoko Fujii is a relatively well-known Japanese pianist working in the free- and avant-jazz circles. I know her from her recording on Tzadik, Kitsune-bi, which has some very compelling moments on it even to my jazz-uninitiated ears. Many prog fans will be familiar, of course, with Tatsuya Yoshida, the drummer and brains behind countless worthy Japanese prog/avant/zeuhl projects, most notably Ruins and Koenjihyakkei. I wasn't in the know when Yoshida got recruited into Satoko Fujii's newest band, a quartet also including her husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Takeharu Hayakawa on bass, which is probably good because I might have died of excitement. Who woulda thought that this New England Conservatory-trained jazz pianist would work with the crazed likes of Yoshida?
Anyway, although I didn't hear about the Satoko Fujii Quartet and its acclaimed release Vulcan, I did hear about Toh-Kichi soon after it came out. This is a recording of a live performance featuring just the two of them, pianist and drummer, at the Festival of Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville in 2002. Naturally, I got incredibly excited, ordered it straight away, and wasn't disappointed. Not surprisingly, the fruits of this duo are an extremely percussive and highly rhythmic melding of jazz, rock, and outright wackiness. Yoshida is on fire throughout - his performance is indescribable except that it's unrelentingly bombastic, characteristically Yoshida, and absolutely awe-inspiring at times. However, he actually restrains himself and is quite tasteful when appropriate, not burying Fujii's playing under a flurry of pounding rock drumming (I was a bit apprehensive about this possibility, actually).
Fujii's piano work is equally impressive. I don't have much of the vocabulary needed to actually talk about the nuts and bolts of piano playing techniques or whatnot, but I definitely like what I hear: there's an excellent balance between tuneful and wildly amelodic free sections. She's also very aggressive, matching Yoshida at every turn, playing truly ferocious (and loud!) stuff whenever it's called for. She even sings along, Ruins-style, with Yoshida, in that absurd made-up language of his. From this description it may sound like the whole affair takes place at breakneck speed, but actually the set is fairly well-paced. It's intense, no doubt, but there's enough breathing room that after listening to the entire 48 minutes I'm not only not fatigued, but I'm ready to do it all over again.
While the entire set is consistently strong, favorites of mine include "Omjhonz", which seems to be structured almost like a conventional jazz tune, with a melodic (if still somewhat spastic) intro and outro bookending what may well be free improv in the middle (I could be completely wrong, of course - it's tough to tell here what's composed and what's not), and "Arabiondo", which features an awesome and hilarious duet between piano and, uh, the zipper from Yoshida's jacket. Seriously, it rawks.
So does the rest of this live recording. Run, don't walk.