Label/Year: Libra Records, 2017
Lineup – Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: piano; Ikue Mori: electronics.
Prolific Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii became a reference in the extreme end of the avant-garde jazz. Not only her ambitious big band projects (New York, Tokyo, and Berlin) have deserved accolade all over the world, but also other collaborative works like the great album Duets, recorded with the inventive bassist Joe Fonda, have drawn very positive reactions among the lovers of the creative current.
On Aspiration, her latest album, she relies on a portentous frontline of trumpeters composed of Natsuki Tamura and Wadada Leo Smith, and complements it with the electronics wizard Ikue Mori. This unusual formation also marks the very first collaboration of the pianist with the latter two.
To introduce “Intent” there is a cutting, multiphonic trumpet, later joined by its equal, which operates in synch but an octave below. Fujii’s awe-inspiring chords and linear notes contextualize the pair of horns, which keep emitting beseeching cries, in an unpredictable contemplative-aggressive communion that feels as much sinister as marvelous. The tasteful electronic effects thrown in by Mori integrate perfectly with Fujii’s textural approach. This also becomes particularly noticeable on the title track, a showcase for the bandleader’s entrancing harmonic movements and melodic delineations, and “Floating”, a piece where the trumpets fiercely clash after an atmospheric start. The horns collapse, having Fujii’s meddling framework attempting to get between them. They end up agreeing at the end, reducing the turbulence considerably and following the same interstellar route with unflinching stability.
“Liberation”, composed by the quartet, is another segment where we can observe Wadada and Tamura embarking on mesmerizing blows as they explore the timbres of their instruments. The long high-pitched notes dropped by one of them go against the muted short phrases of the other, while Fujii, getting into action at a later time, sounds relentlessly spectral in her moves. The band skews any effusive liberating movement until the last section, which engulfs us with a stormy, deep-toned sonic efflux.
The last track is Tamura’s “Stillness”, whose initial deep tranquility awakes gradually, stirring dynamics while progressing toward a whirlwind of emotions. It is a wonderful track and the proper closure of this narrative work.
Aspiration is a challenging trip to the free-form imaginaries of a quartet that searches for the perfect poise in the abstractness and exactness of sounds.
01 - Intent ► 04 - Aspiration ► 06 - Stillness