The centerpiece of ‘I.S.’ is the 34 minute title track. This piece is an intricately detailed maze of written material leading to open disintegrations, evolving into new written material, leading to another disintegration, etc.... Intentionally or not, this process reminded me of Tibetan (or Zen) Sand-painting. This style of artwork involves intentionally destroying itself once finished to signify the law of impermanence. ‘Illusion’. Fujii’s style has often been compared to Cecil Taylor, or 20th century composers like Messiaen. These influences are present and serve her well, while processing them through her own compositional/improvising ideas. Definitely a ‘third stream’ style writer, somehow Fujii’s classical roots come through stronger in her playing but the overall vibe of the recording has a jazz spirit.
Though the emphasis on this recording is definitely on improvising, there’s also a good deal of writing, or in some cases more ‘map planning’ than writing. This reviewer also heard a good amount of Chick Corea in certain phrasing, as well as many moments that seemed to be influenced by having worked on film scores. The theme from "The Godfather" was quoted (unintentionally?) in the 2nd tunes’ melody. Mark Dresser has also worked a good deal in film. More traditional, or accessible melodies and rhythms are often placed adjacent to ‘freer’ sections, but even here links are incorporated. This is not random playing. There are also regularly kept meters (one in 11/8) for those who like ‘beats’, but more than half of the CD is texture or energy oriented.
However, there are sections where each player is given room for ‘solos’. All members of the group partake in aggressive playing, as well as intimate, contemplative moments. Dresser is particularly impressive employing his vast technique to bring out the nuances of the compositions. His bowing of the opening and closing theme of I.S. is almost like a threnody of sorts and made this reviewer recall the opening of Crumb’s ‘Black Angels’ as played by the Kronos Quartet. Haunting. Black as well has an unaccompanied solo moment about midway through the title track. His playing during this moment is extremely busy, yet at the same time endlessly imaginative and not the least bit ‘flashy’. Particularly in his cymbal work, Black is precise, creative, and exciting.
Satoko Fujii Trio is definitely a ‘band’. They are playing music which reflects their collective identity and this latest addition appears to be a deeply personal statement. As leader, Fujii seems to incorporate some of her own personal philosophies into her compositions. Interviews with her that can be found on the internet include her speaking lucidly on topics ranging from classical music ‘confinement’, to primitive music-making, music school bureaucracy, American culture shock, Japanese racial sorrow, etc.... But unlike some other well known philosophizing avant-garde musicians, she appears to consistently filter her more ‘intellectual’, or ‘philosophical’ ideas through musical mediums without making the fatal error of mistaking philosophy for music.