Review / Jazz fusion a blast to the senses

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Satoko and Natsuki. Photo by Bryan Murray

EXPERIMENTAL, jazz fusion and improvised music may not be for the uninitiated, but the sound of Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura combined with the Sirens Big Band was a blast to the senses, and something special to hear and behold.

Out here from Japan, Fujii opened the first set on prepared piano with Tamura on trumpet. The wide array of sounds that these two musicians can create is quite startling. Fujii used a range of tools on the piano to draw out a unique combination of sounds. There were sticks, mallets and what looked like a piece of metal string. That was used like dental floss on the strings of the piano; grinding away to produce the most eerie and penetrating sounds.

Tamura on trumpet gave us a full range of his instrument’s capability, and more. It extended from ear-piercingly high notes to a dark blurting. It was truly effective; even the banging of the lid on the piano against the frame made the piano sound like a whole orchestra. It was a short, but explosive performance.

Fujii conducted the Sydney based Sirens Big Band in the main work, “Fukushima Suite”, or I should say she gestured to them. It was quite something else watching her hands slide from left to right and then up and down, and then the members of the band coming in and out and changing dynamics based on her movement.

The music soon fused into a wall of sound that combined the Big Band, an electric guitar, an amazing performance on double bass, a piano and percussion. Several players used multi instruments. A saxophonist swapped to a clarinet and another played a khene, which is a large bamboo mouth organ from Thailand; its sound added that touch of extra colour to the band.

The volume grew to such intensity, sitting only three rows back it at times felt like someone had thrown a brick in my face; such was the power and dynamic this group produced. A strong, deep pulsing rhythm came back several times throughout the suite. This catchy and dark motif, led by the bass sax, filled the house with its earthy sound and drove the whole band for some time.

Every player had a score, but all watched Fujii for directions. It looked like there was a wonderfully happy conversation going on between the pianist and Fujii when she hit the right feeling. Several times Fujii walked from the stage to the side and crouched down; letting the band have their say with her music. They all clearly knew what to do.

Most members of the band got a solo; all were extraordinary in their ability and the music they generated. This was a concert where almost every musician got to use every bit of their instrument and their bodies.

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