Tuesday, February 6, 2018

One Piano, Two Pianos, & Piano Trio +

2018 is the year of pianist, composer, and arranger Satoko Fujii's 60th birthday. She's celebrating with her fans and new acquaintances by releasing an album every month.  January's entry is "Solo" (Libra Records), recorded on the afternoon of July 9, 2017, in Yawatahama, Japan, approximately 530 miles to the southwest of Tokyo. As much as I enjoy Ms. Fuji's projects with her various large ensembles as well as her work with husband and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (they share several projects), her solo piano outings are always fascinating and this album is no exception.

There are moments of great beauty and solemnity, there are moments of vigor and furious sounds - playing inside the piano, dampening the strings that certain notes sound like small bells ("Ninepin") and giving the high keys a more percussive sound ("Gen Himmel"), Ms. Fujii plays the entire piano.  Listen to "Spring Storm" as the music dances up from the bass notes, imitating rain drops, swirling sounds out of the piano, until the low notes reluctantly give way to a lovely melody. The lines clash, come together, break apart, push at each other, until the storm picks up in intensity - now the phrases are spilling out of the piano but the listener need not take cover.

The final track is a whisper-thin reading of "Moonlight", a truly lovely ballad composed by the late reed master Jimmy Giuffre.  The notes are so well articulated, so clear, one imagines standing on the back porch in the country, staring at the sky.  Her left hand strumming inside the piano as the right plays a rippling melody, the music is suspended in the air and we are still, like the evening breeze, we are quiet, like the song birds sleeping in their nests, as the melody slowly comes to a close.

If you listen to a lot of the music that Satoko Fujii creates, "Solo" may surprise you.  There is plenty of power in her percussive left hand on certain tracks but there are also many moments of tenderness. Yes, there is angularity in her melodies and solos but she also gives pieces where the rhythm carries you rapidly forward (all of that and more happens in nine+ minutes of "Geradeaus").  Approach this album with open ears and you will reap musical rewards.

For more information, go to www.satokofujii.com.

Here's the opening track:

Pianist and sonic adventurer Kris Davis inaugurated her Pyroclastic label in September of 2016 with the 2 CD "Duopoly", an album on which she played duets with reed players Tim Berne and Don Byron, drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore, guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, and pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn, a smaller version of Noah's Ark.

Her second album on the label, "Octopus", is also a duo album but this time it's her with Taborn.  The pianists did a 12-city tour, each bringing new compositions (two for Ms. Davis, three for Taborn) plus one each from Carla Bley and Sun Ra,  What stands out on th initial listening is how compatible and flexible the duo is.  Since both are excellent improvisers, these pieces blend a sense of adventure with melodic freedom and rhythmic experiments.

This is one of those programs where you should just sit back and let the music wash over you. Pretend you are in the audience, watch the pianists, allow your mind to wander.  Pieces such as the opening track "Interruptions One" (all three of Taborn's pieces share that title) flow out of the opening moments, moving in unexpected (for the listener and, probably, for the musicians) directions. The pianists are interacting, responding to musical cues, to the lines each one is playing, building off the intensity or the quiet, and then pushing the music towards a new area.  Ms. Davis's "Ossining" has quite a pulse, one that shifts, morphs, continually moving forward. Through the first several minutes, it reminds this listener of the percussion pieces that Steve Reich has written, works that develop slowly but keep our attention because the rhythm is so pronounced. When you think it's over, the duo turns the piece inward on long, flowing, impressionistic melodic fragments and the closing moments are mesmerizing.

Every track is a highlight, from the aptly named "Chatterbox", an intense workout that does flag from the opening clusters, to the powerful reading of Carla Bley's "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" (first recorded by the Art Farmer Quartet in 1965 followed by Gary Burton Quartet in 1967) - the piece transforms into Taborn's "Interruptions Two", a dramatic ballad that moves away from its powerful chord towards a reflective interaction between the pianists. The album closes with a stunning performance of Sun Ra's "Love In Outer Space."  There are a number of versions by the composer but none that have the luxurious opening of this two-piano reading.  The piece builds slowly but surely to a powerful climax, a rolling, roiling, rhythmical drone that drops to a quiet finish.

"Octopus" is quite an artistic accomplishment. Two pianists, Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, each with an individual style, coming together and creating such fascinating music.  Both have proven themselves to be intrepid experimenters, musicians who do not follow trends but follow their passions.

For more information, go to krisdavis.net.  To watch one of the duo's concerts (from Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center n Washington, DC, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4Eu80jR9Kk.

Here's a track:

Many people know Lewis Porter from his excellent books on John Coltrane, Lester Young, and his various "Jazz Perspectives" books. Dr. Porter teaches at Rutgers University where he created the Masters in Jazz History and Research.  In addition, he's also an accomplished composer and pianist with recordings that feature him with saxophonists Dave Liebman and Chris Kelsey and trio date with bassist Joris Teepe and drummer Rudy Royston.

This past month, pianist/composer Porter has released a Quartet date co-led by saxophonist Phil Scarff (on Whaling City Sound) and "Beauty & Mystery" (Altrusioni), a session that features bassist John Patitucci and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington plus saxophonist Tia Fuller (on two of the 10 tracks). It's the latter recording that is our focus.

With the exception of the opening "Prologue", which is a solo piano piece, the trio dives into a program that features originals, a piece by one of Porter's former students Ted Chubb, and two inspired covers.  The dancing-on-air version of "Bye Bye Blackbird" illustrates how well the three musicians interact with the pianist and bassist playing off the melody and through the piano solo while Ms. Carrington's delightful brush work sizzles underneath.  Patitucci moves into a brisk waking bass while Porter frolics atop the brisk rhythms.  Curtis Mayfield's inspirational "People Get Ready" opens rather solemnly with the piano introducing the melody. The bassist takes over for the first verse before the pianist returns with a wonderful solo (especially the chordal work in the middle of the song). One is touched by the power, the hope, and the humanity in this performance. "1919", the piece by Chubb, is a lovely ballad that the composer/trumpeter first recorded on a 2009 CD he made with Mike Lee. It's a treat to hear three musicians listen to each other, support each other, and play with such emotion, emotion that does not feel forced or contrived.

Three of the original pieces have connections to John Coltrane.  The uptempo "Birthplace" features Ms. Fuller on soprano sax sharing the main melody with bowed bass while the piano and drums build a fire underneath them.  The saxophonist takes her cue from that powerful foundation and creates a stunning solo, her lines swooping, flying upwards as if freed from her earthly bounds.  Porter also unleashes a powerful solo, he too feeding off the rollicking rhythm section.  Ms. Fuller returns on "Blues for Trane and McCoy", this time on alto saxophone. Before she enters, the trio go on quite a romp with the pianist happily leading the way. The sax solo is no afterthought: the intensity level drops for her introduction (but pay attention to how Patitucci and Ms. Carrington support her) and she creates quite a delightful, exciting, solo.  "From Giovanni to Jimmy" is a spotlight for the bassist and a nod to one of his most important influences, Jimmy Garrison.  It's a handsome, medium-tempo, ballad with a fine, elongated, melody line (of the three Coltrane-related tracks, this is there only one where you can really hear the influence of MyCoy Tyner.  The music also has a delightful flow, Ms. Carrington pushing the piece forward while the bass and piano interact, play counterpoint, and dig deeply into the bluesy chords that are the foundation of the music. The unaccompanied bass statement that closes the piece is stunning and heartfelt.

"Beauty & Mystery" is the perfect title for this album by Lewis Porter.  The playing of the pianist with Terri Lyne Carrington, John Patitucci, and Tia Fuller, is creative music at its best. While the music pays tribute to several of Porter's influences (as well as his love for ragas), the results sound contemporary and alive.  Find it, play it loud, and climb into these captivating sounds.

For more information, go to www.lewisporter.com.

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