Satoko Fujii Quartet

Minerva

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The Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii sure took her followers by surprise with Vulcan, the first album by her quartet. Minerva pushes things a bit further down the rocky road without crossing over to the extremes of Toh-Kichi, her live duo set with Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. This second opus features the same lineup: Yoshida, bassist Takeharu Hayakawa, and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. If it moves further away from the avant-garde jazz of Fujii's trio than Vulcan did, it packs less of a punch, mostly because of a somewhat weaker sound. The drums remain too low in the mix, and when Hayakawa steps on the distortion pedal, the bass should roar instead of fizzing out like this. The album begins with "Tatsu Take," a quirky and light composition by Tamura (the other four are by Fujii). If you forget the fact that it fades in awkwardly, it works out very well. Then comes "Warp," menacing with its heavy bass riff, reminiscent of Frank Zappa's "Filthy Habits." Yoshida pitches in some of his trademark vocals, but more importantly drums the tune all the way to hell. In contrast, "Weft" includes a swinging piano solo. The closer, "Caught in a Web," consists of a free-form first half dominated by some of the drummer's most delicate work to date and Tamura's bubbling interventions, before moving into the metrically challenging theme and variations. More convincing in its fusion of avant jazz and avant-prog idioms but less riveting sonically, Minerva still has quite a ride to offer if you dare step inside.

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