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 band-leader 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, the globe-trotting Japanese native synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock, and Japanese folk music into an innovative music instantly recognizable as hers alone.
Since she burst onto the scene in 1996, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music. In 2013, she debuted the Satoko Fujii New Trio featuring bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani, the first piano trio she has led since her trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black last played together in 2009. The trio expanded into a quartet called Tobira with the addition of her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, in 2014. The all-acoustic Satoko Fujii ma-do quartet, together from 2007 to 2011, showcased the latest developments in her composition for small ensembles in an intimate acoustic setting. Another acoustic quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble with trumpeter Tamura, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, and accordionist Andrea Parkins is dedicated to developing written and improvised music in the collective spirit of Japanese folkloric music. Fujii also led an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins from 2001 to 2008.
Fujii has established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, prompting Cadence magazine to call her “the Ellington of free jazz.” Since 1996, she has released a steady stream of acclaimed albums for jazz orchestras and in 2006 she simultaneously released four big band albums: one from her New York ensemble, and one each by three different Japanese bands. In 2013 she debuted the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Chicago at the Chicago Jazz Festival. In 2015, she released a CD by her new Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin and worked with orchestras in Oakland, California and Beilefeld, Germany.
In addition to playing accordion in Tamura’s Gato Libre, Fujii also performs in a duo with Tamura, as an unaccompanied soloist, with the international quartet Kaze, and in ad hoc groupings with musicians working in different genres. Her special projects have included collaborations with ROVA saxophone quartet, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Joe Fonda, and Junk Box, a collaborative trio with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck. In recent years she has worked with dance and music ensembles featuring percussive dancer Mizuki Wildenhahn. She has also toured and recorded with saxophonist Larry Ochs’ Sax and Drum Core, and appeared on albums by drummer Jimmy Weinstein, saxophonist Raymond McDonald, and Japanese free jazz legend, trumpeter Itaru Oki.
With 2016 marking her 20th year in creative music, Fujii performed solo concerts once a month in cities around the world, her duo with Tamura performed with special guests, and she presented concerts with her small and large ensembles, past and present.
“Whether performing with her orchestra, combo, or playing solo piano, Satoko Fujii points the listener towards the future of music itself rather than simply providing entertainment,” writes Junichi Konuma in Asahi Graph. She tours regularly appearing at festivals and clubs in the U.S., Canada, Japan, South America, and Europe. Her ultimate goal: “I would love to make music that no one has heard before.”