Satoko Fujii

Trace a River

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Ten years after the Satoko Fujii Trio's debut recording -- and six other records later -- comes Trace a River, a high-water mark in the group's creative flow. This album was released four years after the uneven Illusion Suite (although, in the interim, there have been two albums featuring an expanded version of this trio billed as Satoko Fujii Four). The lineup remains the same : bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Jim Black, and Satoko Fujii at the piano and composition. The longest piece of the set at almost 13 minutes, the title track ranks among the pianist's best tunes. It has that unmistakable Fujii style: a powerful head, a certain aggressiveness hiding delicate harmonic work, and progressive-like development (this reviewer wouldn't be surprised to hear her rock-leaning quartet also perform this piece). After such a highlight, the album could have gone downhill, but it certainly does not: "Take Right," "A Maze of Alleys," and "Kawasemi" are all thrilling tracks propelled by Fujii's angular-yet-romantic playing. As usual, Dresser and Black form the perfect rhythm section for the pianist's music: flexible, creative, and dynamic. Dresser is stellar in "A Maze of Alleys," and Black throws in a pretty amazing junkyard solo in "Kawasemi." Even the two short ballads "Day After Tomorrow" and "February" (both recorded as afterthoughts, seven months later) are gracious additions that balance out the extroverted nature of the album. The flow of recordings featuring Fujii can be overwhelming for most people interested in her work, fans and casual listeners alike. Well, let it be known that Trace a River is the Satoko Fujii Trio's most important album since Kitsune-Bi, and one of Fujii's all-time best records, because it encapsulates the uniqueness of her voice, as a composer and pianist, through a set of superior focus and art.

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