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Pianist Satoko Fujii and Bassist Joe Fonda New Duet Album Mizu

Pianist Satoko Fujii and bassist Joe Fonda deepen their dialogue on a new duet album Mizu…

On Mizu, pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and bassist Joe Fonda pick up where they left off two years ago when they released their first duo album, titled simply Duet, to rave reviews. Mizu,recorded live on a 2017 European tour, finds them delving deeper into their musical connection. There’s a surprise around every corner as these two play with even greater emotional abandon, lyricism, and freedom.

At the urging of a festival producer in Europe, Fonda contacted Fujii in 2015 to see if she’d like to get together to play. They eventually were able to coordinate their busy international performing schedules for a New England tour later in the year. They managed two other concerts before their next opportunity to play together for an extended period emerged, on a 2017 four-city European tour. The tour produced the music on this new duet CD, as well as Triad, a trio recording with Italian saxophonist Gianni Mimmo released earlier this year as part of Fujii’s 60th birthday celebration.

Despite a lengthy gap between performances, the chemistry between Fujii and Fonda has grown.

“I find that the more we play together, the more free we feel to take risks. We talk to each other in music,” says Fujii.

Fonda agrees. “Now that we’ve had a chance to play together more, the vocabulary and the possibilities that we’re using have expanded,” he says. “We trust and respect each other, that’s where the freedom comes from.”

The freedom results in exhilarating music that is both inviting and challenging.

On “Rik Bevernage,” a dedication to the late Belgian concert producer and label owner, there’s an elastic give and take between Fujii and Fonda as they exchange ideas and develop them. Sharp percussive motifs give way to flowing waves of music and then to sounds of unusual timbre. Fonda sounds especially inspired on this track, joyfully springing off in his own direction one minute, then curling around Fujii’s piano inventions like a vine. “Long Journey” also finds bass and drums in perfect sync, playing in parallel without ever directly echoing or following the other. “Mizu” is focused and unhurried as it winds its way through one fascinating musical landscape after another. Throughout the album, the pianist and bassist are co-equal creators, with no sense of a leader and an accompanist, just two voices intertwined in a profound dialogue.

“I would not get the same inspiration from Joe if he played only like an accompanist,” Fujii says.

“For me instrumentation and traditional soloist-accompanist roles are not that important. Who I play with and the quality of their ideas and willingness to work together are far more important to me.”

“I feel free to play whatever I want and so does she,” Fonda says. He points to a moment on the title track to illustrate what he means. “There is a place where I start singing. I remember all of a sudden Satoko started playing something that sounded like opera to me. And I said to myself, wow, someone’s gotta sing—and that’s what I did. This is the kind of freedom we’ve arrived at.”

Fujii’s unprecedented birthday bash continues in August with a concert recording by Quartet Mahobin, featuring Fujji, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, saxophonist Lotte Anker, and Ikue Mori on laptop. Her duet with Australian keyboardist Alister Spence follows in September and a new recording by Orchestra Tokyo is also in the works. Other surprises and delights will be in store in the fall and winter, in what is sure to be an unforgettable outpouring of musical riches.

Joe Fonda is a serious seeker of new musical horizons,” according to the Boston Phoenix.

From 1984 to 1999, he was the bassist with composer-improviser and NEA Jazz Master Anthony Braxton. Fonda also has been an integral member of several cooperative bands, including the Fonda-Stevens Group with Michael Jefry Stevens, Herb Robertson, and Harvey Sorgen; Conference Call, with Gebhard Ullmann, Stevens, and George Schuller; the Fab Trio with Barry Altschul and Billy Bang; and the Nu Band with Mark Whitecage, Roy Campbell, and Lou Grassi. He is currently a member of 3dom Factor, Altschul’s trio with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, and guitarist Michael Musillami’s trio, among others. He has collaborated and performed with other artists such as Archie Shepp, Ken McIntyre, Lou Donaldson, Bill and Kenny Barron, Wadada Leo Smith, Randy Weston, and Carla Bley. He has led some truly unique ensembles of his own including From the Source, which features four instrumentalists, a tap dancer, and a body healer/vocalist; and Bottoms Out, a sextet with Gerry Hemingway, Joe Daley, Michael Rabinowitz, Claire Daly, and Ullmann. He has released twelve recordings under his own name.

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today.

She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a bandleader who gets the best collaborators to deliver,”says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on more than 80 albums as a leader or co-leader, she synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock, and Japanese folk music into an innovative music instantly recognizable as hers alone. Over the years, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including her trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, the Min-Yoh Ensemble, and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. Her ongoing duo project with husband Natsuki Tamura released their sixth recording, Kisaragi, in 2017. “The duo’s commitment to producing new sounds based on fresh ideas is second only to their musicianship,” says Karl Ackermann in All About Jazz. Aspiration, a CD by an ad hoc band featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Tamura, and Ikue Mori, was released in 2017 to wide acclaim. “Four musicians who regularly aspire for greater heights with each venture reach the summit together on Aspiration,” writes S. Victor Aaron in Something Else. She records infrequently as an unaccompanied soloist, but Solo(Libra), the first of her projected monthly 60th-birthday-year albums, led Dan McClenaghan to enthuse in All About Jazzthat the album “more so than her other solo affairs—or any of her numerous ensembles for that matter—deals in beauty, delicacy of touch, graceful melodicism.” As the leader of no less than five orchestras in the U.S., Germany, and Japan, Fujii has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, leading Cadencemagazine to call her, “the Ellington of free jazz.”

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