Satoko Fujii

Heat Wave

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After releasing new recordings with her jazz trio (Trace a River) and her improv trio Junk Box (Cloudy Then Sunny) in the first half of 2008, Satoko Fujii kicked off the second half of that year with Heat Wave, the first CD by her new project Ma-Do. Although marketed as a "new direction" for the pianist, Ma-Do will not surprise or puzzle any of Fujii's fans. This quartet is simply more composition-based than her long-lasting trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black, yet less "in your face" than her quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. There is very little improvising going on on Heat Wave, the focus being put on through-written compositions. Free improvising and textural playing are kept to a minimum, except in "Amoeba," where it sums up the piece. So you get more melodies for your buck, if that's what you're after. Otherwise, the compositions on this album are typical -- and premium -- Fujii: angular, hammered piano motives, aerial airs, progressive tunes bridging the gap between Rock in Opposition and avant-jazz. Highlights include the punchy title track, the complex "Mosaic," "The Squall in the Sahara" and its unexpected twists and turns, and the soulful "Beyond the Horizon," whose opening theme is strongly reminiscent of a soft passage in one of Magma's epics. The first half of the album is pretty strong, with the quartet (Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, acoustic bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, drummer Akira Horikoshi) driving the music with conviction and a certain rock attitude, despite their resolutely jazz-based instrumentation. The second half loses a bit of steam, with the free-form "Amoeba" letting the album grind to a near-halt -- not that it is a bad structured improvisation, but it feels out of place here. Luckily, "Spiral Staircase" resets everything by delivering one of those complex anthems Fujii is best known for. Heat Wave may not be quite as strong as Trace a River (if you had to pick only one Fujii release from 2008), but it still makes a very fine, rather sunny and accessible listen. A good number of these tracks deserve some serious live playtime.

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