September 2005

The 12th Annual Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium
| Sticks and Stones | & | Satoko Fujii Four |
September 10, 2005 Guelph Youth Music CentreGuelph, Ontario
Double Bill at the GYMC
by Joyce Corbett

A tall woman stands on the left of the stage in a copper and green colour-shifting dress that flares down to her feet. Her face is painted gold. Two white roses hang inverted from her thick braided hair, one at the level of her right shoulder and one just below it. Her saxophone sound is authoritative. It speaks strong, warm notes, fat with the roots of jazz, the ideas of Ornette Coleman, the language of ritual — pregnant with the spirit of exploration. This is Matana Roberts. Her fellow explorers are bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor. Together they are the Sticks and Stones trio, all Chicago-born and showing it.

Fragments of melody rain over a background of driving bass and drums eventually reaching the same frenzied pace. Tension eases off, the sax falls silent, the drums follow. Bass sounds alone, hand-plucked, succeeded by bells. Bass returns, hand-plucked and side slapped. Percussion evokes Africa. Clarinet returns us to America. We find ourselves in bowed blues. All in one piece.

They play a mix of their own tunes and Monk tunes. "Skippy", "Ruby My Dear", "Refusal" and "Spicer", among others. It is clearly a band of equals breathing as one, yet the strong melodic bent of Matana Roberts predominates and we are rapt.

Matana Roberts
Satoko Fujii Four consists of pianist Satoko Fujii, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. Satoko trained as a classical pianist from the age of four. By the age of twenty, playing only written notes bored her and she started exploring jazz.

The Satoko Fujii Four explore sound itself, trying to elicit every sound living in their instruments. I sat listening with my eyes closed and heard a synthesizer, though I knew that when I had closed them, there wasn’t one on stage. Opening my eyes, I saw that the sound was being generated by the dragging of the bow against the strings of the bass. That’s when the drummer started to push and pull a bow through the spaces between the hardware and the frames of his drums. He jingled a concave disc of bells, detached a cymbal, and dropped it on the skin of the snare, smack in the middle. Standing at the piano, Satoko manoeuvred a glass inside it, then hit the strings with a stick producing a crystalline tinkling over a collective base of sound that hinted of darkness. Trumpeter Tamura added notes of muted longing.

Satoko Fujii

The program states that Satoko’s "pianism evokes the dark resonances that jazz listeners associate with Randy Weston and Abdullah Ibrahim". Randy Weston cites Monk and Duke Ellington as early influences. Duke Ellington was drawn to Debussy and Weston has played Debussy’s music. Like Weston, Satoko loves to make the bass piano strings reverberate. She creates successions of shimmering sound with chords and melodic lines against pedal-held chords. Think Debussy, La Cathédrale engloutie.

An anecdote I once read about Monk — he used to eat at the piano and leave his dishes — forks, knives and plates — to pile up on top. One day as he played, he kept stopping to listen. What’s that? he said, sounds like an airplane or something. It was the sympathetic vibration of dishes, cutlery and strings.

The dark foreboding with which the group’s music started, arcs back to Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain or Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. And Debussy was influenced by the music of Spain — and of the East.

I could turn back to Monk, speaking of dischord and spaces and move forward in time to more recent composers and around and around, but I conclude that the music of Satoko Fujii Four comes from a place where boundaries no longer exist. Terms like contemporary classical, avant-garde and free jazz could all be employed in its description. This foursome's music is full of improvisation but still has form. It develops out of a beginning, moves to a middle space and achieves an end. It is exquisite, full of nuance, impressionistic and surprising.
> Matana Roberts > Mark Dresser
> Satoko Fujii > Jim Black >
We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
Joyce Corbett
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The Live Music Report

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