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Guelph 2013: Satoko Fujii and Kaze blew away preconceptions

Satoko Fujii was all over the keyboard, frantic and furious, before reverting to slow and delicate ©Brett Delmage, 2013Satoko Fujii and Kaze
Cooperators Hall, River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – 10:30 a.m.

View photos of this concert

What kind of music would you expect at 10:30 on a Saturday morning?

As soon as I saw this ensemble – one pianist, one drummer, and two trumpeters – I figured this was not going to be your typical jazz show, not even your typical free jazz show. But the Japanese-French collaboration within Kaze produced some empathetic and kinetic music, with all the musicians working to support each other.

Which isn't surprising, given the intertwining connections within the group.

The best-known member of the quartet is Japanese pianist/composer Satoko Fujii. She and French drummer Peter Orins flanked two trumpeters: Natsuki Tamura from Japan and Christian Pruvost from France. Fujii and Tamura are not only married to each other; they've also recorded and performed together in ensembles ranging from duos on upwards. Orins and Pruvost also have long-standing ties: they both belong to the French improvisers’ collective Muzzix.

The four have been playing together since 2010, and have released two albums: Rafale (2011) and just recently, Tornado (2013). However, no composition names were announced during this concert, so it was not clear which, if any, of the pieces from those albums were included, or whether the concert was strictly free improv.

This tour (which covered Boston, Portland (Maine), and California, as well as Montreal and Guelph) was also the first time that Orins and Pruvost had played in North America – surprising given the quality of musicianship and originality they displayed in this hour-long concert.

Starting out, the music reminded me of an early morning in the woods: light rustling noises, low bell-like tones, and just barely-heard breathing through trumpets. Fujii, who played inside the piano as much as on the keyboard in this concert, plucked piano strings and then played simple spans of notes on the keys. Orins coaxed out chiming notes from the cymbals with mallets. The trumpeters played in unison, sounding like suppressed crying. The effect was gentle and magical.

Then it got more complicated.

Long, coordinated lines on trumpet were underlaid by rumbling drums and first metallic string plucking and then deep bass notes on the piano. Both trumpets filled the hall with echoes – and then startled the audience with screeches. Fujii created complicated patterns, sounding like water running through rapids, and over that came a raw-edged trumpet solo, punctuated with popping sounds, and slicing through the softer piano and drum sounds. It felt as though everyone was playing at cross-purposes: uncoordinated but very fast and intense.

And then the sound level just dropped. Both trumpets sang softly in unison, and Fujii played chords on the piano, but so hushed she could hardly be heard. Suddenly it was intense and full again, almost like an anthem, before the piano took over, playing alone, quietly and thoughtfully. The next moment, Fujii was all over the keyboard, frantic and furious, before reverting to slow and delicate.

With fast dings on the hi-hat, the music started up again, with repeated fast notes on piano, and high atonal screeches on trumpets. Tamura's lines called out, sounding high and desperate; Pruvost placed even higher notes over top. Both continued intensely, with strong piano chords under, until the piece ended with one last flourish on piano, and strong applause from the audience.

“Kaze” means wind in Japanese, and by the time this 30-minute piece finished, so much had happened it felt almost as though a windstorm had exercised its might through the hall.

In the second piece, which filled the remaining half hour of the concert, Pruvost in particular used electronics to give his trumpet more metallic feel. He also ran a string through his trumpet while playing, adding a breathy sound at one point and a clicking sound at another. Tamura stuck with more of a standard groove (with some muted growls), but both added percussive effects by striking together metallic objects and shakers. At one point, Tamura sang through a noisemaker, sounding almost like a baby crying.

While Orins occasionally produced metallic squeaks on his drumset, at the beginning his playing was mostly filling in textures. He used a metal bowl to create ringing tones, and then placed it upside-down on his drum, creating a buzzing effect.

This piece was almost as varied as the first, moving from light birdsong sounds in the beginning to simple piano patterns over what sounded like non-melodic traffic noise. Sometimes the music was graceful and other-worldly, sometimes full and romantic with slow, lonely trumpet lines on top, sometimes spare and solemn, sometimes highly dramatic.

The lead moved organically and smoothly among the musicians: the piano might create Satie-like melodies for a minute or two, and then the trumpets might slash across that with a highly atonal line. Tamura and Pruvost in particular fit very well together although they mostly played very different styles and sounds: each provided an interesting counterpoint to the other, sometimes also using different tonal ranges to reinforce each other. Orins was the backbone of the group, always worth listening to and holding the quartet together when their centripetal energy threatened to pull them apart.

And despite being so varied and difficult to categorize, the music was exhilarating. The audience appeared involved throughout, and greeted the end of the concert with a standing ovation.

After this warm reception, Fujii told the audience that the Guelph Jazz Festival was one of her favourite jazz festivals in the world. Noting that this was her third appearance at Guelph, she said she hoped she would be invited back again. With this bravura performance – very much in the Guelph mode – that seems likely.

    – Alayne McGregor

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Click any thumbnail to view a larger image.

Read more about the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival: