Satoko Fujii has not released such a smooth, dreamy, lush-sounding album since April Shower, her 2001 set of duets with Mark Feldman. After a string of albums with her orchestra and Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (either as a duo or within the Satoko Fujii Quartet), the pianist comes back to her roots, something that will be welcomed differently by early fans and more recent followers. The decision to record an entirely solo album -- her first since Indication (Libra Records, 1996) -- mirrors her husband Natsuki Tamura's own return to solo recording with the similarly ravishing (although very different in approach) Ko Ko Ko Ke, released only a couple months earlier. Sketches consists of 11 improvised piano pieces, all recorded during the same session and almost in the same sequence as they are presented on the disc. By now, Fujii's personal style and expression have flourished, adding more depth to the virtuosity and creativity found in her early Libra and Leo recordings. If the album doesn't have the punch of her recent trio, quartet, or orchestra outings, it marvelously showcases her lighter, more romantic side. She is often found reflecting on the teachings of her mentor, Paul Bley, or drawing inspiration from the playing of Cecil Taylor, Fred Van Hove, and Denman Maroney. Virtuosity and feeling, melodic development and rhythmic abstraction, jazz and non-idiomatic improvisation coexist between the keyboard and inside-piano sounds offered throughout these Sketches. "Frozen Fire" and "Dazzling Sunlight," despite heating things up and representing the most vehement moments of the set, don't come close to her work with Yoshida. On the other hand, the closing triptych consisting of "Looking Back," "Looking Everywhere," and "Look Up" revisits her formative years with grace and not the slightest trace of nostalgia. The album as a whole reasserts her talent as an improviser and a soloist.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture