Bell the Cat!, the fifth album by Satoko Fujii's New York trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black may be their most varied - and most daring - yet. With each new recording, the rapport between the trio members grows deeper and the risks they take are greater. With each recording, Fujii's concept for the trio matures and her composing for it channels their creativity in new, exciting, and unexpected directions while giving them plenty of freedom to shape the music. Bell the Cat! is being released October 1 by Tokuma Japan (TKCB-72369).
The album opens with Silence," one of their most brilliantly sustained dialogs on record. Starting with short distilled phrases etched in empty space, the piece builds tension through the quiet intensity of the band's sound production. Then it explodes into a dense and dynamic three-way exchange. Black, in one of his very best performances on record, agitates behind and around the varied gestures of Dresser's bass as Fujii weaves in dark, brooding lines, erupts into brilliant treble fireworks, carefully voices lush chords, and subsides into gentle lyricism. It's a trio tour-de-force that ranks with the best jazz piano trio recordings. The album's other extended piece, Slowly and Slowly" features Fujii pushing her searching lyricism to the limits of prolonged melodic development.
Fujii's writing fills each track with surprising musical events, which the trio negotiates with a creative finesse born of their five years together. Get Along Well With features playful give and take with tempo and melody as the trio plays three-way variations on the tunes dissonant Monkish melody. Confluence" gives free reign to the trio's most abstract sound explorations before galloping into an up-tempo work out. Bell the Cat" unfolds over an uncategorizable groove. At times, the piano and bass work in a swinging time feel while Black works a rock beat. Eventually the driving rock beat comes to the fore and the piano and bass delve deep into some of the album's most startling pure sound explorations. Champloo" again showcases Fujii's love of melody, with a folk song like theme that brings the album to a close.
The trio's 1998 debut release, Looking Out of the Window, made several critics' year-end top 10 lists in Coda and Jazziz magazines. Cadence magazine singled out Fujii's rare blend of free playing coupled with a melodiousness that hold the pieces together while she systematically takes them apart. Dresser and Black fit like a glove." Their follow up albums-Kitsune-Bi on John Zorn's Tzadik label, To Toward West (Enja), and last year's Junction (ewe) further developed the group's unique take on standard jazz piano trio format. Bassist Dresser blends classical and jazz sensibilities with special sensitivity toward unusual timbres and textures. Black's drumming is likewise rich in new sounds, with a sophisticated appropriation of Balkan dance rhythms into a modern improvisation context.
At this point in her career, Fujii's style so organically merges jazz, classical, folk, and rock elements that her music truly defies category. Her compositions range freely among idioms from jazz to rock to folk music and wed contrasting extremes of tempo and density, strong melody and pure sound, consonance and dissonance. The resulting structures stretch conventional assumptions of style, coherence and balance. Her a fusion of styles through improvisation and compositional technique pushes the piano trio in new and exciting directions while giving listeners familiar signposts with which to orient themselves. Her music is adventurous, playful, and full of surprises, yet it is serious in its intent to chart new territory and to challenge musicians and audience alike with new possibilities for creative expression and engaged listening. Bell the Cat! is the most fully realized recording of her demanding and rewarding trio concept.
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