Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - 'Shiki' album review

Often moving in free time, Shiki is a fine listen for avant-garde music lovers.

Satoko Fujii has been in the world of avant-garde music for over 20 years and has toured Berlin and Japan. In 2013, Fujii teamed with bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani. The group released their debut recording, Spring Storm, that same year.

Prominent in the new album, Shiki is inventive instrumentation, lazy woodwinds, and lackadaisical drums. It’s an album that boasts clever themes and new ideas. Harmony lines are challenging, making for an avant-garde listen for a niche audience. The surprise of vocals on the last track is welcome.

It is a somber beginning of the album for Fujii. “Shiki” is a long track, 35 minutes, and get ready if you’re not accustomed to this kind of sound. It, is in fact, quite slow in the beginning, with long solemn woodwinds. Percussion, then, breaks through. The trumpet is wistful, and sings out. The soaring brass segues into a jazzy movement in free time with drums.

“Gen Himmel” is about six and a half minutes long. It features more woozy, brass instruments. Drums trail and lazy cymbals crash as new harmonies attempt to gain in prominence. There are plenty of bold dynamics in the track. As the song progresses in free time, it offers new themes for the listener.

“Bi Ga Do Da” adds voice, and is a great revelation. Attention is paid to the space between the sound, and there is a fantastic blend between the voice tones and the stringed instruments. The vocal work sounds like gibberish. Then, there is a choral interlude, and a type of controlled chaos ensues. There is something refreshing about it. Though it sounds like a delightful world of confusion, it is essentially an extraordinary avant-garde effort worth listening to. Assertive drums lead and the chorus sings, “Bi Ga Do Da.”

All in all, Shiki, from Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, is a success. Perhaps, varied length of the tracks could provide a different conceptual framework for the listener, but this well-conceived album is a joy for fans of avant-garde music.

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