From the outset of Watershed, one can tell that what’s to come isn’t going to be the most lovely of experiences. Challenging screeches and screams of trumpet, provided gamely by the genius Natsuki Tamura, chill the spine in “The Thaw.”
Indeed, any ensemble led by Satoko Fujii isn’t particularly renowned for its pleasantness or ease. Such is also the case with her Min-Yoh Ensemble, a group featuring Fujii on piano, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Andrea Parkins on accordion, and of course Mr. Tamura creating his ungodly, unearthly sounds on trumpet.
Inspired by Japanese folk music (Min-Yoh), Fujii’s quartet takes to the stuff of legends with no aim to reproduce something “traditional.” This is the folk music of complexity, of darkness and of shadows. To that end, Fujii’s group first ventured into the void withFujin Raijin.
Watershed is another dip, I suppose.
Fujii utilizes a lot of water imagery in unfolding her form, using abstract sounds and cries to highlight the improvisational aspect. The musicians are encouraged to stretch and bend the rules of musicality, powering their respective instruments to create noises that are far from pleasant but always interesting.
The written structure of much of Watershed is quite beautiful, however, and that creates a dichotomy that is somewhat off-putting. It also gives the music a sense of structure, creating a sort of exchange between free creation and notes on a page. It’s like a tale passing through generations, accepting additional flavours along the way but maintaining the core values necessary to make it a story in the first place.
“The compositions I make for Min-Yoh are very much like the compositions for other projects,” says Fujii. “I write the frame and let the players draw and paint their own picture.”
The picture painted by these musicians is one of lightness and difficult beauty, whether through pieces like “Takeda no Komoriuta” and its waves of illusory sound or “Limestone Cave” with its rough vocals and clattering.
As with most of Fujii’s material, Watershed is complicated and not instantly gratifying. Those with inexperienced, unprepared ears may be hard-pressed to locate anything beyond disordered racket, but further listens and education reveal an album (and a group) of methodical organization and musical excellence.
This was originally published at Blinded By Sound.