This Is It!: Mosaic

Pianist who drank a lot of coffee with Paul Bley seems to display his influence, along with that of Cecil Taylor and possibly Thelonious Monk

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The Japanese trio that is This Is It! is distinguished by its original improvised music, built on both flowing and episodic aspects marked by considerable dynamic power and no little sensitivity to matters of texture, space and (near) silence.

Born in Tokyo in 1958, pianist Satoko Fujii has an extraordinarily rich discography to her name. She has worked in all sorts of contexts, from big band on down, with recordings with, for example, Mark Dresser and Mark Feldman and an ongoing slew of work with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. She can also lay claim to extensive study in America, at the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. I like the fact that while at the latter institution she had lessons with Paul Bley “which consisted largely of conversations over cappuccinos”. In 1996 their duo album Something About Water was released.

A member of her husband’s fine quartet Gato Libre [Free Cat] – where she can be heard on accordion – Fujii is able to exploit a wide range of post-Taylor poetics, with (to my ears) occasional long-distance echoes of Bley and Monk. She has a resolute sense of contrast and dynamics within what often becomes an extensive multi-inflected line.

Tamura is an equally probing and exploratory player. Hear the variety of Leo Smith-like “little sounds’”with which he commences Sleepless over the excellent percussionist Itani’s deep-toned and spacious figures, or the development of his variegated solo on Dieser Zug. This ever-building piece commences with a gentle and spaciously wrought vibraphone prelude from Itani: the whole is testimony to the aptness with which these musicians titled their latest endeavour Mosaic, delivered partly under the (online) restrictions of SARS‑CoV‑2.

Some of my favourite moments here occur in Kumazemi, especially during a mysterious, magically cast duet between pianist and percussionist. 76 RH is almost as engaging: at first hearing, it could come across as a relatively familiar avalanche of free-jazz energy, but it actually features some welcome, leavening shifts in accent and timbre, exemplified by Itani’s solo.

Discography
Habana’s Dream; Dieser Zug; Kumazemi; Sleepless; 76 RH (54.42)
Natsuki Tamura (t); Satoko Fujii (p); Takashi Itani (d, pc). Kobe & Soka, June 2021.
Libra Records 203068