Satoko Fujii’s ma-do – Desert Ship

In order to feature the more subtle side of her playing, pianist and composer Satoko Fujii created ma-do. A quartet featuring Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Akira Horikoshi on drums and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, ma-do is a compelling group in that it appears to exist in steady stylistic disagreement.

Fujii, to my ears at least, is one of today’s most fascinating pianists. She’s fearless and refuses to compromise, relentlessly giving in to the pursuit of beauty and suddenness in her arrangements and her playing. While I might stop short of saying that Fujii’s playing reflects a sort of divergence, I think it is safe to say that ma-do indeed builds to its best performances when it tosses out the rulebook and lives in the conflicted spaces.

Desert Ship is the latest release from ma-do and it is a tortuous record filled with glorious possibilities and pure sonic commotion.

Because Fujii almost always seems to work out of a state of delicious disarray, her compositions can nearly be overlooked in light of the rather chaotic playing present. Of course, dismissing her arrangements would be a mistake, as Desert Ship features pieces that summon virtually cinematic visuals.

“February – Locomotive – February” begins the record with nearly anthemic chords and a pronouncement of beginnings. Fujii lays out a traditional pattern and the quartet builds around it, almost giving the impression of a conventional jazz recording. Tamura’s trumpet cuts in, deftly soloing while the piece gains momentum as it builds to its clattering, chaotic conclusion.

It is the way ma-do fools with the idea of song construction that makes Desert Ship most appealing, I believe. As I mentioned, Fujii’s group appears to exist in steady conflict.

This is especially evident with the beautifully bare title track. Fujii’s arrangement is built on her faint chord placement and Tamura’s trumpet is like a scorching desert wind. The piece gradually crawls through the sand, almost toying with totality before vanishing over the horizon like an fragmentary thought.

Whether playing with the idea of a march on “Nile River” or giving in to a labyrinth of instrumental blasts on “Pluto,” Fujii’s ma-do is always fascinating and always engaging.

With Desert Ship, Satoko Fujii continues to make an impression. She sophisticatedly and simply synthesizes avant-rock, folk, jazz, classical, and experimental music and melts it with her own vibrant style. Always distinctive and always exciting, Fujii’s ma-do offers another excellent opportunity to explore her work.

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